We’ve been told to expect the end of the passport, replaced by a secure and digital traveller identification.
Advancements biometrics—becoming common hardware on smartphones, as presented during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, could be a watershed hardware development.
As advanced biometrics become available, mobile passport security is enhanced. But there are still complex political hurdles to overcome.
In its new White Paper on Digital Borders, the World Economic Forum suggests that governments should embrace digital technologies and move towards a universal digital personal identity instead of government-issued documents.
Building blocks of simplified digital travel
As the WEF report states, many of the building blocks for a global travel identity program are al-ready in place.
"Individuals, the private sector and governments alike stand to gain a lot from a functioning and interoperable digital identity; and governments have an important role to play.
"Today, governments are the principal issuers of authentication documents and credentials in the physical world and can play a comparable role in the digital world.
"Successful examples of implementation at the national level have started to emerge in the past years, paving the way for the implementation of similar programs in other nations and, optimistically, at the global level.
"The creation of effective and efficient digital identity management can effectively enable the move of economic and social interaction online and strengthen trust-based digital services."
Blockchain is expected to make digital identity documents more secure while speeding up the travel process.
SITA has already announced a project to work on a single-token traveller identity using blockchain, and technology companies in the travel sector are exploring other ways in which this secure encryption technology might improve the travel experience.
Test of concept
The WEF also proposes an early test-of-concept, with travel and tourism companies participating in trials based on existing technologies.
Travel wallets could serve as a central repository of traveller information.
Tiffany Misrahi, community lead for aviation and travel Industries and a global leadership fellow for World Economic Forum, tells us:
"The Concur TripIt system is the example that we used, but there are many solutions."
New customers could enrol in membership programs, and book travel.
Governments could incorporate mobile passports, directly linking the travel itinerary to the traveller ID. Hotels could also capture passport data for check-in. The wallet could also pre-populate data in immigration arrivals forms.
WEF suggests limited initial trials for travel between two US airports Miami International Airport and John F Kennedy International Airport, and one European airport, possibly London Heathrow or Frankfurt.
Hoteliers Marriott and Hilton could use the platform to test the integration of passport details, WEF suggests.
A second phase could add bank information, credit ratings, drivers licenses, or other information which governments might want to use to validate travelers' eligibility.
It could also introduce biometric technologies, to more securely validate identity. The WEF mentions biometric kiosks already in the market, but advanced biometrics are coming to our personal electronic devices sooner than expected.
At this week's Mobile World Congress, EyeLock, which specializes in iris-based identity authentication solutions, demonstrated its iris biometric solution on the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 mobile platform with X16 LTE.
The processor contains the Qualcomm Haven security platform, which combines hardware, software and biometrics technologies for hardware-based user authentication, device attestation, and device security.
It can be used in various applications including mobile banking and payments, enterprise access, and personal data protection.
The Snapdragon 835 processor uses both fingerprint identification and a "Secure Camera" - effectively a portable biometric retinal and facial recognition scanner.
"By 2018, most new smartphones released in the world will include biometrics," says Sy Choudhury, senior director of product management at Qualcomm Technologies.
"Smartphone developers are increasingly adopting iris recognition as the gold-standard among biometric solutions because of its rich information density."
Tiffany Misrahi tells us of mobile biometrics:
"The advancement of technology will most definitely support our vision for a global trusted traveller program and a digital passport. But technology cannot solve the challenges on its own. There is a need for public-private collaboration to revise the framework for the legitimate movement of people."
While, in its White Paper, the WEF makes a compelling case for a universal digital travel identity, including its contribution to greater border security, Tiffany Misrahi acknowledges that politics complicate matters somewhat.
"Putting up walls and introducing travel bans is not a sustainable solution to making countries safer: illegitimate travelers will become more creative while legitimate travelers will suffer," Misrahi says.
"The solution that the White Paper proposes is one which enhances security while making travel more seamless. From our discussions with both government and business, we do think there is an appetite for this type of universal border clearance.
"There are, however, challenges which need to be addressed including the harmonization of standards and the integration of digital identity principles, among others."
The broader adoption of other applications benefiting from digital identity may motivate governments to adopt a universal traveler identity, as WEF suggests.
"I believe that there are many best practices that can be learned from other sectors—including the financial sector relating to the free exchange of financial information—or trade," Misrahi says, though she adds: "The movement of people has historically been viewed separately."