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Canadian man uses passport on iPad to cross U.S. border


January 8, 2012

A Canadian citizen pulled up to the U.S. border holding an iPad showing a full-sized image of his passport and was allowed through

A Canadian citizen pulled up to the U.S. border holding an iPad showing a full-sized image of his passport and was allowed through

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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 Press

About the Author
Jonathan Fincher Jonathan grew up in Norway, China, and Trinidad before graduating film school and becoming an online writer covering green technology, history and design, as well as contributing to video game news sites like Filefront and 1Up. He currently resides in Texas, where his passions include video games, comics, and boring people who don't want to talk about either of those things. All articles by Jonathan Fincher

The border guard should be fired but then he would be hired by the TSA.


The US military already uses smart ID cards to log on to secure networks; don\'t see why you couldn\'t build the same kind of data into a driver\'s license or a \"passport card\". Stick it in the reader, enter your pin, voila. it\'s you.

Charles Gaines

How did this guy manage to get picked up by all the news agencies? Apparently he had his birth cert, AND drivers license. So they knew who he was, and he had proper ID, proof of citizenship. Also he is a regular traveler to the USA, but just happened to forget his passport -- but had a copy on his ipad.

They were just nice enough to let him enter the USA without a Passport.... This story is basically a misleading reporting of the facts....


You could implant a chip, just like what dogs get. The problem with the chip is that if somebody really wants to assume your identity they have to hold you down and perform surgery, probably without anesthetic, maybe even kill you first. With conventional identity devices, such as car keys which prove I\'m the owner of a particular car, they \"let go\" more easily in case somebody is determined to steal the car.


Why are you bringing this story when it has been made clear the guy was allowed through based on his other papers not the image of his passport.

Somebody got his 15 min. of fame lets not use anymore time on this.


Why carry anything? The authorities have the heavy computing power. Let them access and view, in an online pool, the docs they issue us, to identify us. Nothing to steal or forge.


I believe that he got through with just a driver\'s license and this iPad image. My wife and I made the same mistake, but from the other side of the fence. We drove into Canada with our US driver\'s licenses, forgetting that we\'d need a passport to come home. The US border patrol eventually let us back into the US with just our driver\'s license. Though we did offer to show him a scanned image of our passports, he said that wouldn\'t be necessary, and after some time, and some hemming and hawing, we were allowed back into the US.

Jeff Michelson

The next story will be about a taliban agent using a crayon drawing of a passport gaining access to the \"E\" ring of the Pentagon because a janitor told him it would \"be OKAY\"... Sheesh people! someone needs to get fired over this!


For so many years monetary transactions occur via credit card and debit cards. A similar pin system can be put in place. We trust the banks and the banks trust the retailer. So I envision ID based like the credit card with pin numbers, where does the transaction go wrong?

Dawar Saify
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