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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Using E-documents as proof of identity - Canada / USA and India

Heard of Mustang and its use ?

Canada and United States share a long land border.  The relations between the Nations have been so good that moving from one country to another is hassle-free, though it does require some documentation.

In the recent years Officials guarding the vast and mostly unfenced border between the United States and Canada are increasingly concerned of  sophisticated organised crime gangs to transport terrorists and weapons across into the US.   In some ways, Canada is seen as a global hub of organised crime,  of intricate network to smuggle marijuana, counterfeit goods and guns.  The United States has invested millions in attempting to secure its border with Mexico. But in an age of advanced surveillance technology, one of the most effective policing methods is as old as the border itself.

The US Border Patrol force was established in 1924 and was strictly an equine affair.  In its nascent stages, applicants had to provide their own horse and tack, but the government would provide horse feed. In the rocky, desert territory outside El Paso, Texas, sure-footed horses can traverse ground that four-wheel drive or all-terrain vehicles cannot.  Border police use Mustangs, the iconic American frontier horse, are often used. Their big hooves and dense bone structure mean they can easily roam rugged ground for nine-hour shifts.

There are much headlines of a Canadian man, Martin Reisch using an electronic medium for crossing the broder.  He had left his passport back at home but still the US border officer made an exception after he was handed the iPad displaying a scanned copy of the forgotten passport.  Newspaper reports state that he ad travelled long from Montreal when he realized that his passport was left at home.  He was heading to the US to drop off Christmas gifts for his friend's kids. He said that the true story, the scanned passport and his driver's license.
"He took the iPad into the little border hut. He was in there a good five, six minutes. It seemed like an eternity. When he came back he took a good long pause before wishing me a Merry Christmas."  US Customs and Border Protection says it only accepts a passport, an enhanced driver's license or a Nexus pass from Canadian citizens entering at land crossings. The list doesn't mention facsimiles, like scans and photocopies.

Thus the passport copy in his  iPad  helped him to get through Canadian Customs on the way home later that day.  The digital identification utility made headlines in many news papers. 

Is this  really News – new or big ??    -  India is a conservative country and Indian Railways it a Public Sector Undertaking bound by rules and more rules.  Whenever people undertook travel, the first Q from relatives and friends was whether one was carrying the ticket and whether it is being kept safe.  There abound tales of people missing out tickets at home in hurry and getting stranded at the Railway Station. Booking a Railway ticket was a great ordeal as one had to stand in Q for hours together memorizing the Name and No. of the Train.

All that became ‘stories of old’ once Railways started e-tickets facility. People were able to book their tickets sitting at home and what more travel with a printout of the Electronic Reservation Slip (ERS).  Alongwith ERS an Identification was required.  The booking and travel suddenly became hassle free.    Even that is out-moded.

Now one can happily do their Railway journey just using the Virtual Reservation Message (VRM).   A screen-shot of the e-ticket displayed through laptops/palmtops/ Mobile phone is referred as Virtual Reservation Message (VRM).  ERS/VRM along with any one of the nine prescribed ID proofs in original and the indication of the passenger(s)' name(s) in the Reservation Chart will authorize the passenger to travel.

VRM combined with valid photo-id in original is being treated as an instrument on par with the ERS.  Holding a VRM will entitle any passenger to enter the platform on the date of journey and pursue travel and they are not required to purchase platform ticket or carry a print-out.    This has been approved by Indian Railways from July 2011 itself.  Reference : Railway Board Letter No.2008/TG-I/10/P/SMS dated 20.07.2011

That way, Indian Railways are far ahead of their times and are promoting Green initiatives by asking passengers not to print their ticket on a piece of paper.  So next time when you travel just have the VRM on your Blackberry / ipad or mobile.  Happy journey.  But be sure to carry  a valid original ID proof  to authenticate the ERS/VRM.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

PS  :  Mustang  is a free-roaming horse of the North American west that first descended from horses brought to the Americas by the Spanish. Mustangs are often referred to as wild horses but being descendents of once-domesticated horses, they are  feral horses.  Mustangs are used by Border Patrol Services for effective bordering of the unfenced US Canada borders.  

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