Is a Nexus pass worth giving up your privacy?

I Want You



If lots more international travel is on your retirement wish list, a NEXUS pass can help you to avoid long winding immigration lines at Canada/U.S. border crossings. But before you are approved, Uncle Sam wants to know you a whole lot better!

The NEXUS program is jointly administered by the Canada Border Services Agency and U.S. Customs and Border Protection which is a part of U.S. Homeland Security. It is designed to simplify border clearance for pre-approved low risk travellers going to the U.S. or coming back into Canada by land, sea or air.

The pass only costs $50/person and it’s good for five years. You can apply onlinethrough GOES – the Official U.S. Government Web Site. You can also download a paper application.

But required information to get the pass includes data from your passport, birth certificate and drivers licence; your employment history for the last five years; your address history for the same period; and a description of the automobiles you own, including licence plate numbers.

In addition, once the application has been submitted, there are interviews by both Canadian and U.S. border officials to validate the information on your application, and review original documents such as proof of citizenship and residency, work permits and visas. The Toronto office is at the airport.

The final step is digital finger-printing and a retinal scan. Strangely enough, the ridges on my fingers were too flat to produce a good digital image so this part of the process was waived based on my past travel history.

Passes can only be used if everyone in your party has one. So the next time the family hustles off to Buffalo for the weekend, you won’t be able to use the NEXUS dedicated commuter lane unless your mother-in-law and the kids also have cards.

It’s an honour system, but you still have to fill out immigration forms and comply with all customs and immigration laws and regulations. If you are caught breaking the law you will lose your NEXUS privileges and could be subject other legal sanctions.

NEXUS lanes can save drivers crossing the U.S. border loads of time, particularly at peak periods and on busy holiday weekends. However check out the online listing of border crossings that have NEXUS lanes and when they are open because they are not universally available and they do not always operate 24/7.

For example, the Nexus lanes hours of service on the Queenston/Lewiston Bridge into Canada are seven days a week from 8 AM to 8 PM. However the hours of service at the same crossing into the United States are only Monday to Friday from 7 AM to 9 AM.

Canadian NEXUS passholders can also apply for the Global Entry program. Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance upon arrival in the United States from any country (not just Canada) by using automated kiosks located at select airports.

Recently we returned to Toronto Pearson Airport from a family trip to Orlando. While my daughter’s family had to stand in lines four deep before going through immigration, as NEXUS pass holders, we bypassed that delay completely. In fact, by the time they got through we had claimed all of our baggage.

Is the $50 cost of the NEXUS pass worth it?

It depends how often you travel and where you go. It’s clearly a no brainer if you live in Canada and work in the U.S., or vice versa. But the trade off is that to complete the NEXUS application you must voluntarily surrender a great deal of private information. Only you can decide if saving a little time is a good enough reason to have your fingerprints and retinal scan on file with the U.S. government.

I love the convenience and I didn’t put a great deal of thought into the privacy implications when we first applied for our NEXUS passes several years ago. But I must admit more recent media reports about privacy breaches by border authorities are kind of creepy.

What do you think? Do you have a NEXUS pass? Do you think it’s worth sharing sensitive personal information with the U.S. government to get one?

Also see:

Biometrics and the Challenges to Privacy
Submission: The Privacy Implications of Aviation Security Measures

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