updated 1/22/2008 3:46:58 PM ET 2008-01-22T20:46:58

British Columbia is developing a new high-tech driver's license that could be used as a passport alternative to enter the United States by land and sea, officials said.

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A new pilot program will involve 500 volunteers who agree to share personal information with Canadian and U.S. authorities, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell said Monday.

The licenses are a response to U.S. security measures that require valid passports for land and water crossings. Beginning next month, Canadians will have to present proof of citizenship when entering.

Passports provide that but traditional driver's licenses — which have been the key requirement for entry — do not.

The enhanced licenses will look similar to current ones but will be embedded with a radio frequency identification chip that can be scanned at border crossings.

"The new enhanced driver's license will confirm both the holder's identity and Canadian citizenship, and can be used at land and water border crossings in place of a passport," Campbell said.

The license can only be used at land and sea crossings and passports will still be required to fly into the United States.

Campbell said that once an assessment is done on the pilot project, the new licenses could be rolled out to British Columbians as early as 2009.

Officials hope the licenses can help speed the crossing into the U.S., which has slowed because of stepped up security since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

"There were many adversaries and critics who said you'll never be able to convince the U.S. that there could be acceptable alternatives" to passports, said federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day. "But we do have alternatives now."

Once in use, Day said drivers approaching a border booth will simply hold the license up to a scanner.

"I think you'll be seeing very quickly other provinces" joining in, Day said, indicating that Ontario, Alberta, Quebec and Manitoba had shown interest.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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