The World Economic Forum (WEF) has recently released a study highlighting the feasibility of producing single, secure, and transferable digital identities for Known Travellers, within a ‘Seamless Travel’ approach. We are excited that single-token travel is being discussed in such a venue.
What is the Context?
Given the progress made in several technological fields over the last several years, new paperless methods for the secure transfer of information have been developed and matured. Now, at the start of the ‘4th industrial revolution’, we can envisage an interconnected network of people and systems, with the vast majority of the public possessing smartphones and open architecture solutions allowing a wide variety of actors to put into place secure, interconnected systems.
At the same time, paperless travel is becoming an ever more relevant subject. There have been several recent trials focused on single destination paperless travel, such as the touted paperless travel scheme between Australia and New Zealand.
What is the Concept?
The WEF proposes that the intersection of four innovative concepts can create the framework for a secure single identify for known travellers. These include:
- Distributed Ledger (AKA Blockchain) – This technology allows a decentralized database holding unique traveller identities (separate from any national government) and with a ‘consensus mechanism’ which provides a very high level of information integrity certainty.
- Cryptography – Cryptography allows for information to be securely held and accessible in a meaningful way by those who are authorised to handle it, without risk of the illicit handling of important biographic and biometric data.
- Biometrics – Advances in biometric technologies have allowed for the relatively low cost, high latency, and high fidelity capturing of an individual’s unique biometric data. This makes it possible to capture anyone’s biometric data for entry into a known traveller database and network with a minimal expense and effort.
- Personal Electronic Devices (PEDS) – Given the widespread proliferation of Smartphones and Tablets, these devices can be used by travellers and travel officials to rapidly draw the required information within any internet networked environment through a web portal. This therefore acts a ‘bridge’ between the person and their unique digital identity.
What is the Impact?
A single digital identity for known travellers, providing a seamless travel experience for the individual could have significant efficiency and time savings for every impacted stakeholder. The most evident of these savings are highlighted below:
- For passengers, there are experience enhancements, with a genuinely cohesive travel flow from reservation to destination, and the reassurance of knowing that each key step is tied to their identity for facilitation purposes.
- For border authorities, passenger information can be transferred before arrival as augmented API/PNR, meaning faster and more certain border control processes;
- For airlines, ticketing can be done based on digital identity, and biometric bag-drop can reduce the risk of lost luggage;
- For security checkpoint managers, a genuinely risk-based security approach can be implemented providing potentially large throughput gains and efficiency savings.
This kind of thinking harmonizes well with the most innovative ideas across the aviation landscape, for example the IATA One ID initiative. Exiting! However, there will certainly be some regulatory challenges as governments align their policies and the regulatory landscape with this approach. We need the WEF, IATA, and other international bodies’ help more than ever in creating standards that will allow for harmonization across the industry. Onward!