Updated with new headline and comment from Martin Reisch at 2:10 PM PST.
Earlier this morning, reports that a Canadian gentleman passed through U.S. customs using nothing but an image of his passport on his iPad 2 started circling the Internet.
“Great Scott! Nothing but an iPad!” you say. “How tremendously forward-thinking of our government officials!”
But, alas, according to U.S. customs, the story being circulated doesn’t share the whole picture of the incident. You cannot enter the U.S. using a scanned image of your passport on a mobile device.
The original article, reported by the Canadian Press, stated that the man, Martin Reisch, crossed the border from Quebec into the U.S. just north of Vermont using a scanned copy of his passport on his iPad, along with his physical driver’s license. About a half hour from the border, he realized he’d left his passport at home, but figured he’d give it a shot.
After handing the customs official his iPad, “he kind of gave me a stare, like neither impressed nor amused,” Reisch said. After taking the iPad and driver’s license into the border office for about five minutes, the official returned Reisch’s documents and wished him a happy holidays, letting him into the country.
Or so the story has been told.
A Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson told Wired.com, “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.”
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s official policy says that U.S. and Canadian citizens entering the U.S. from within the Western Hemisphere must present a “valid, WHTI-compliant document” such as a passport, Trusted Traveler card, U.S. passport card, or enhanced driver’s license or I.D. card. Scanned and digital images of these documents are not accepted forms of identification.
The CBP spokesperson declined to comment on the possibility of apps or mobile devices being used to aid identification in the future.
Wired spoke with Martin Reisch and he asserts that he did not have a birth certificate when he crossed the border, contrary to Customs’ statement. Reisch says he only had his driver’s license (which is not enhanced) and the image of his passport on his iPad — a .jpg file he snapped five to six years ago before a trip to Europe and had in his Dropbox folder.
“When you’re going to the airport, you remember to bring your passport. When you’re driving, you don’t,” he said. Only in recent years has it been necessary for Canadian citizens to need a passport when crossing into the U.S.
“As soon as I crossed over the border I took a picture and was like, ‘Holy cow, I got through,’” Reisch said. After tweeting about the incident, both during and after it happened, a reporter with the Canadian Broadcast Company reached out and he told his story on the radio yesterday morning. Since then, The Canadian Press picked it up, followed by various blogs, which twisted the story and added “sensational headlines.” Reisch plans to come to Las Vegas for CES next week, and he’ll be bringing his passport.