The evolution of the passport photo

When photography was invented, its enormous potential for identifying people was immediately recognized. The passport photo is one of the oldest and most visible security features of the passport. Its evolution mirrors many other security advances that have been made over the last century to ensure that the Canadian passport is resistant to fraud and tampering.

Family photos glued in place

Canadian passport from 1922.
Canadian passport from 1922

Photographs began to be included in the passport in the early 20th century. At that time, applicants could submit a photo of themselves in any pose, anywhere. The photos were simply glued to the passport.

Married women travelling with their husbands would be included on the man's passport. Often, a single photo of the couple posing together was used.

Before photography, the only unique element that could help prove that a passport belonged to a certain person was the bearer's signature.

Laminated photos and machine-readable passports

Machine-readable passports were introduced in Canada in 1985 to meet the specification set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The last two lines at the bottom of page 2 form the machine-readable zone, which contains the passport holder's personal information in a format that can be scanned at border crossings. At the same time, the passport holder's photograph, personal information and passport details were laminated to prevent tampering.

Digital printing and holographs

Machine-readable zone
Machine-readable zone

The following generation of Canadian passports was introduced domestically in 2002 and abroad in April 2006. It featured a digitally printed photo of the bearer that was embedded into the identification page of the booklet. The passport also contained holographic images and a second hidden photo of the bearer that could only be viewed under ultraviolet light.

The electronic chip

In 2003, ICAO adopted machine-readable travel document (MRTD) specifications for a passport that includes an embedded chip containing the bearer's personal identification data and photo; an ePassport. Belgium launched the first ICAO-compliant ePassport in 2004 while the United States began issuing ePassports in 2006.

In January of 2009, Passport Canada launched an electronic passport pilot project for diplomatic and special passports. Electronic passports, or ePassports, contain a chip that is encoded with the passport holder's photo and the same information that is displayed on page 2 of the passport.

The ePassport chip also contains a digital signature that tells border authorities that the ePassport is authentic. Canada shares these signatures through ICAO's Public Key Directory, which is an international system that allows countries to work together to fight passport fraud. Thanks to this system, ePassports are easier to validate when Canadian citizens visit other countries.

Since July 1, 2013, all new Canadian passports are issued as ePassports.

Biometrics

A biometric system is a way to identify people by their unique physical characteristics. For example, the only biometric element in the Canadian passport is an image of the holder's face (the passport photo). This image can be digitally compared to another photo of the passport holder. This is called facial recognition technology, but biometrics are not limited to faces. Other forms of biometric identification include fingerprints, iris recognition, hand biometrics (bone structure) and DNA.