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Useless technology alert: “enhanced” driver’s licences available in Ontario

TheOntario government announced without much fanfare this week that residents can now apply for “enhanced” driver’s licences that double as a citizenship document… but only for entering the United States… and only by land or sea.

The licences, which are already available in B.C. and soon will be in Quebec, will cost $40 on top of the price of a regular driver’s licence ($75), making them more expensive than a passport, which lets you fly anywhere. And as the Council of Canadians and others have pointed out, they come with substantial risks to privacy and further integrate Canadian government surveillance and traveler screening systems with those in the United States.

The EDLs may be useless for those hoping to cross the border a little quicker (there will be no new lanes for EDL holders as there are for Nexus pass holders), but they are very useful for security agencies hoping to keep track of people as they move across borders and, possibly one day, throughout North America. It is the likely reason the Canada Border Services Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security are the driving forces behind EDLs – and not the provinces as Premier McGuinty likes to claim.

Canada’s assistant privacy commissioner, Chantal Bernier, told a public forum we co-organized with the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, the Consumers Council of Canada, la Ligue des droit et libertés and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association that the EDLs will likely collapse under their own weight. Governments in Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and PEI have killed their own EDL projects.

But reason doesn’t seem able to penetrate the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, which is dead set on going ahead with an “enhanced” licence… even though they won’t be available for the June 1 WHTI deadline. What a waste of time, money and privacy.