Blockchain technology may hold the key to single secure travel identification across borders
Travel technology provider SITA is exploring the potential of blockchain technology to provide travelers with a secure single token to travel through airports and across borders. The revolutionary technology provides the opportunity to allow secure biometric authentication of passengers throughout the journey across borders. This could eliminate the need for multiple travel documents without passengers having to share their personal data.
SITA’s technology research team, SITA Lab, is researching how using virtual or digital passports in the form of a single secure token on mobile and wearable devices could reduce complexity, cost and liability around document checks during the passenger journey.
Jim Peters, CTO, SITA, said: “Our vision is for seamless secure travel. To date, technology has provided SITA the opportunity to do that at many airports and at more than 30 of the world’s borders. But the underlying design of today’s computer systems means that there are multiple exchanges of data between various agencies and multiple verification steps, which reduces the ability to have a single global system.
“Now blockchain technology offers us the potential to provide a new way of using biometrics. It could enable biometrics to be used across borders, and at all airports, without the passenger’s details being stored by the various authorities.”
SITA’s innovative research imagines passengers creating a verifiable ‘token’ on their mobile phone which contains biometric and other personal data. In this vision of future travel, no matter where in the world you go any authority can simply scan your face and scan your device to verify you are an authorized traveler. This can be done without all these agencies ever controlling or storing your biometric details. SITA Lab has worked with blockchain start-up ShoCard on an early demo of these concepts which is being showcased by the companies at the Air Transport IT Summit in Barcelona.
Armin Ebrahimi, founder and CEO of ShoCard said: “ShoCard sees a digital revolution when it comes to people providing their verifiable identity information to third parties. Today we are showing how our identity platform, built using the blockchain, combined with SITA’s unique air transport and border management solutions could improve traveler experience while ensuring security.”
Peters continued: “Blockchain offers a revolutionary approach to computer applications. It fundamentally changes the way we design systems because we can now create decentralized, global, tamper-proof, distributed databases. It is very early days yet and the issues of scalability and adoption rates need to be examined. But what our SITA Lab team is looking at today is how we in the air travel industry – airlines, airports and government agencies – can take advantage of the new era where the underlying blockchain protocols provide trust so that individuals or authorities don’t have to.”
SITA’s researchers are investigating a versatile and secure system to make the single travel token work globally, across all borders. Blockchain technology allows ‘privacy by design’ so that passenger data can be secure, encrypted, tamper-proof and unusable for any other purpose. At the same time, it eliminates the need for a single authority to own, process or store the data. The crypto-led computer science of blockchain provides a network of trust, where the source and history of the data is verifiable by everyone.
Peters added: “This is a whole new way of working but ultimately ‘The Blockchain’ is simply a database where transactions are recorded and confirmed anonymously. Whether it is used for currency or travel it is simply a record of events that is shared between multiple parties but most importantly once information is entered, it cannot be changed, and privacy and security are by design.”
SITA’s research into the Travel Identity of the Future is part of its ongoing investment in research for the benefit of the entire air transport community. Identity management to enable secure and rapid passenger flow through airports is one of the five community research programs that SITA has launched to address some of the industry’s most pressing challenges. The others are new baggage tracking capabilities to meet IATA’s Resolution 753; the facilitation of IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC); an industry-wide disruption warning system; and enhancing cybersecurity across the industry.