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As of July 1, passports now come with a small, embedded chip digitally containing personal information that used to be handwritten.

Arlene Gee/Thinkstock

Every new Canadian passport is now an "ePassport." So why the "e?"

As of July 1, passports now come with a small, embedded chip digitally containing personal information typed on page two. Unfortunately, though, travellers can't just wave the passport's chip before a digital reader to speed through customs.

No, it's all about extra security. Customs officers will still scan the letters and symbols at the bottom of page two, then the machine reads the chip to authenticate that information. The extra check is hoped to prevent forgeries, a step recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization since 2003.

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Canada is only now belatedly introducing the chips, even though 100 countries have issued them or are in the process of doing so. Canadians can purchase ePassports that expire after 10 years or, at a cheaper cost, in five years. Passports for children under 16 are good for five years, and non-chip passports remain valid until their expiry date.

The new passports also contain a digital version of the passport photo, which puts an emphasis on facial recognition technology. Other biometric information such as iris identification or fingerprints won't be included.

The earlier introduction of chipped passports in the United States and Britain raised concerns about hacking or digitally copying the travel document. Passport Canada, however, claims that ePassports have suffered no major problem since their introduction globally.

"Transitioning to the enhanced ePassport also helps maintain visa-free entry for Canadians into more than 150 countries … and preserves the reputation of the Canadian passport as being one of the world's most safe and respected travel documents," Passport Canada spokesman John Price wrote in an e-mail.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story said the electronic chip found on Canada's new e-passports digitally contain personal information that used to be handwritten. This information is typed on page two of the passport. This version has been corrected.

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