Case Study: Using RFID at the Border


How RFID technology is helping to speed and secure the flow of traffic and goods along the world’s largest bilateral land border.

Name of Organization: Canadian Border Services Agency

Industry: Government

Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Opportunity or Challenge Encountered: It’s no small task for a government agency to monitor and manage the world’s longest international border, especially when the world’s busiest and third-most populated nation is on the other side of it. The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) is charged with just that – watching a 5,525-mile-long border, extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific and up to the Arctic Ocean. There are at least 119 border crossings, through which more than 200,000 vehicles and 400,000 people pass each day. Almost $2.5 billion dollars’ worth of two-way trade passes between the two countries on a daily basis as well.

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To validate travelers’ identities and prevent illicit substances from entering Canada, the CBSA employs a range of cutting-edge technologies, including radiation detection portals to mass screen cargo containers for radiation, laser range finders, biometric technology, iris-scan identification systems, and digital fingerprint machines.

Lately, the agency sought to more quickly expedite travel through its busy border crossing points, while still keeping track of who is entering the country.

How This Opportunity or Challenge Was Met: To meet this need, the CBSA is adding Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to traveler lanes at select ports of entry across Canada. “RFID technology saves time by eliminating manual entry of traveler information,” according to CBSA. “This helps the CBSA meet the growing demand for fast and efficient traveler screening.”

The system is set up with travelers entering inspection lanes with their RFID-enabled travel documents. The RFID reader reads the RFID tag number as their vehicle approaches the booth. Information is retrieved from secure databases, assessed for risk and then displayed on the border services officer’s screen.

There is no cost to travelers if their travel documents are already RFID-enabled, according to CBSA. Documents that are already RFID-enabled for this purpose include the electronic Canadian Permanent Resident card; Canadian Enhanced Driver’s License from Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia; Enhanced Identification Card from Manitoba and British Columbia; NEXUS card; and the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) card.

RFID technology is the wireless, non-contact use of radio frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data, for the purposes of automatically identifying and tracking tags attached to objects. The RFID chip and reader allow for RFID-enabled travel documents to be read and displayed from a distance, prior to a vehicle’s arrival at the primary inspection booth. No personal information is stored on the RFID chip.

According to CBSA, RFID technology is now fully operational at select land ports of entry across Canada. Two regular traveler lanes have been equipped with RFID technology at key border crossing points. The RFID lanes have a special reader to capture RFID tag numbers as travelers’ vehicles approach the booths. The RFID tag number will retrieve traveler information from secure databases, assess for risk, and then display the information on the border services officer’s screen.

Benefits from This Initiative: The employment of RFID chips is helping CBSA modernize its infrastructure at ports of entry across the country. RFID technology saves time by eliminating the need for the officer to manually input the traveler’s information. “These infrastructure upgrades will increase efficiency at Canada’s busiest land points of entry,” CBSA says, adding that it plans to extend certain RFID-enabled travel documents from the United States.

From the small RFID chip embedded in their card, such as a driver’s license, the traveler’s information is retrieved from a secure database and transmitted to a CBSA officer’s screen as the car approaches the booth. “This saves time, as it eliminates the need for the officer to manually input the traveler’s information,” the CBSA site indicates. . “Automated database checks, using RFID technology, greatly supports frontline officers in the performance of their duties, improves and speeds up the border crossing process for travelers, and enhances border security for Canada.”

(Source: Canadian Border Services Agency)

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