By Ken Hegan for MSN

Your passport’s about to turn into a 007 gadget. Whether you want it to or not.

Passport Canada’s slick new digital ePassport looks just like a normal passport. Except it contains an embedded, electronic ‘biometric chip’ with personal details like your full name, gender, date of birth, where you were born, and a digital picture of your unsmiling, superspy face.

Oh, and this is Canada we’re talking about, so your ePassport pages will feature images of an Inukshuk holding a giant feather, Niagara Falls, Samuel de Champlain (The Father of New France), Sir John A. Macdonald looking sober and profound, The Last Spike, a sailboat about to crash into Newfoundland, a train passing oil derricks in a bleak and humanless land (you’re welcome, Prairies), and children playing hockey and football instead of studying math and sciences like kids in other countries that are totally kicking our economic butts.

Sports

If you’re wondering ‘Why design a new passport when my last one works perfectly fine?’, then Passport Canada’s FAQ has your answer: “The addition of the electronic chip to the Canadian passport will increase security, provide greater protection against tampering and reduce the risk of fraud.”

Passport Canada promises their ePassport will not contain a GPS tracking device (so you’ll have to escape from Blofeld’s volcano fortress all by yourself), and will not contain “biometric information such as an iris scan or fingerprints” which of course means they’re totally planning to add your iris scans and fingerprints once they figure out how to add your iris scans and fingerprints without sparking a slew of riots.

And there’s no truth to rumours that the new ePassport will contain your bank account numbers, Internet search history, or creepy, threatening surveillance photos of your loved ones in case you try any funny stuff, because I just made those rumours up.

Click on the image below to watch a short explanatory video:

EPassport video

To ensure this extra security, the ePassport locks your info onto the chip. If someone tries to unlock or alter the chip, electronic passport readers will discover the skullduggery and clamp you in irons.

Boat

In their 3-minute promo video, Passport Canada explains that other countries have introduced these ‘sophisticated’ digital passports. Apparently they’re so reliable that “no problems have been flagged with the 400 million ePassports in circulation around the world.”

The new ePassport prices: $120 for the 5-year ePassport (wayyyy more expensive than the old $87 price) or you can pay $160 to get a 10-year ePassport (which, at $16 per year, is actually a cheaper annual rate than your old 5-year $87 passport). The new prices come into effect on July 1st, 2013 when the ePassport is available to all.

InukshukNow, you might be asking why the rates have gone up. Passport Canada has an explanation for that, too. On their FAQ, Passport Canada explains that it’s a cost recovery operation [Translation: ‘We beg for cash just like every other government department’], plus they have to “keep pace with advances in technology and international standards in the field of travel document security,” and that costs real money.

Also: they only make money off Canadians who actually buy passports…and passport prices haven’t risen in 10 years.

“So we’re not rich, man. Cut us some slack,” Passport Canada said in my mind and not in real life.

Your old passport will work just fine until its expiry date. But if you need a new passport after July 1st this year, you won’t be able to get the older, cheaper passport anymore. On that date, the biometric ePassport is mandatory or as Samuel de Champlain might say “de rigueur”. 

What do you think about the slick new ePassport? Will it shut down your lucrative identity theft ring?

— Ken Hegan

Read more of Ken’s travel stories here

Twitter: @KenHegan

Photos: The Canadian Press/HO-Passport Canada

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