While driving from Quebec to the United States, a Canadian citizen named Martin Reisch suddenly realized the fear of every world traveler: he'd completely forgotten his passport at home. Going back for it would've meant several hours extra driving time, so using a little quick thinking and a huge amount of luck he pulled up to the U.S. border holding an iPad showing a full-sized image of his passport that he had taken five years previous and had saved to a Dropbox folder. After what must have been a nerve-racking five minutes while border officials looked over the document, Reisch was amazingly allowed through into Vermont, even receiving a "Happy Holidays" from the border officer for the trouble.
Of course, it's doubtful that this sort of practice will become the norm anytime soon, but it does raise the question of whether this should just be considered a breach of security or a sign that official digital documents could be a reality one day.
The Canadian press learned about 33 year old Reisch's experience through his Twitter profile, where he first mentioned being allowed to cross the U.S.-Canadian border using an iPad image and his driver's license. The story drew some attention since security has been tightened along the border in the past few years - Canadians have needed to carry passports to enter the U.S. for just two years now - and nothing is mentioned on the official list of approved IDs about copies or scans.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection were quick to refute Reisch's story. Speaking with Wired, a spokesperson said, "The assertion that a traveler was admitted into the U.S. using solely a scanned image of his passport on an iPad is categorically false. In this case, the individual had both a driver's license and birth certificate, which the CBP officer used to determine identity and citizenship in order to admit the traveler into the country." Reisch however, who also spoke with Wired, is quite adamant that he did not have his birth certificate with him.
But while it might certainly be handier to have all forms of ID on the tablet or mobile phone that many people carry with them at all times anyway, the problems with using a digital image in place of an official document are fairly evident. Digital documents can be altered or faked much more easily than a physical one that has gone through official channels, for instance. There could be advances in security technology in the future, but for now, the validity of a scanned ID is difficult to verify.
For his part, Reisch disagrees, pointing out that many airlines allow travelers onto planes with digital boarding passes. Speaking to The Canadian Press, he noted, "It's a recognized form of checking in (on airlines), so I see the future as 100-percent being able to cross with your identity on a digital device - it's just a matter of time." However, Brian Masse, New Democrat MP and a representative from the border city of Windsor, offered The Canadian Press probably the most likely explanation for Reisch being able to cross into the U.S. using his iPad: "I think this guy just got lucky."
Source: The Canadian PressView gallery - 4 images