The World Economic Forum (WEF) is testing the future of international travel, without physical passports. The organization proposed the Known Traveler Digital Identity initiative, which will allow travelers to cross borders using their mobile devices as identification. The concept was first introduced in a 2018 report published by the Forun in partnership with multinational consulting firm Accenture.
The report suggests how a combination of existing technologies – such as biometric data, cryptography and blockchain (the process behind virtual currencies such as bitcoin) – could be implemented to create a virtual identity that each passenger in transit can show through their mobile phone in a practical, safe and private manner.
Known Traveler Digital Identity Precedents
Similar technologies already exist to make life easier for tourists. Virtual wallets for mobile platforms such as iOS (Apple Wallet) and Android (Google Pay) can store student IDs, membership cards and even credit cards. Also, many airlines generate boarding passes as QR codes that passengers can scan at the departure gate to board their flight. Finally, nations such as the United States, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore and the Dominican Republic already offer registration services for their citizens where they only need to scan their passport to quickly enter or exit their country.
Where the Known Traveler Digital Identity (KTDI) program differs from these other services is that it completely eliminates the need to carry physical documentation with you. It all starts by downloading an application that records passengers’ documentation to generate their digital identity.
How KTDI Would Work During a Trip
When arriving at a participating airport, passengers would only show a QR identifier from the app on their mobile device and undergo biometric verification (picture and fingerprint scan). The information is shared mid-flight with immigration authorities at the destination to expedite the process there.
Like a physical passport, the KTDI stores digital stamps at each port of departure and arrival. The more stamps passengers accumulate, the faster their process advances next time and the more reliable they are ranked.
Airlines, border authorities and security organizations such as INTERPOL would only receive the passenger data relevant to each institution in this process. Travelers regain control of the privacy of their personal data while saving time in the migratory procedures. Meanwhile, airlines and airports manage to process a greater flow of passengers with very little investment.
Opportunities and Threats
KDTI is closer to reality than ever. The WEF revealed a prototype to legislators, executives and technology entrepreneurs from various countries during their 2018 Annual Meeting held in Davos, Switzerland. The KDTI testing phase will continue throughout 2019, with the participation of Canada, the Netherlands and other countries. The WEF predicts the first digitally documented end-to-end journey will take place in 2020.
The implementation of KTDI on a large scale will depend on an unprecedented cooperation between governments of the most frequented travel destinations in the world. The difficulty, apart from the diplomatic obstacles, lies in negotiating agreements on issues such as visa requirements and authorizations for minors. In spite of everything, the benefits of the proposal, both economic and ecological, are easy to extrapolate. The spread of this technology would be a milestone in tourism industry for every nation on Earth.
Read the KTDI report here.