Is a Known Traveller Digital Identity the disruptive innovation the global travel security ecosystem needs?

The cross-border movement of legitimate travellers has for decades enabled and sustained international trade, tourism-driven economic growth and increased tolerance across cultural and social divides. However, the travel system is under pressure from the growing number of travellers (forecasts indicate that cross-border travel will grow by 50% over the next decade and reach 1.8 billion international arrivals by 2030), infrastructure capacity limits and ever-increasing risk and security requirements. In particular, efforts to address increasing cyber and physical risks to national security can have adverse effects on the benefits of international travel.

A new report, co-published by the World Economic Forum and Accenture, highlights the opportunities made possible through advances in emerging technologies like biometrics, cryptography and distributed ledgers to advance security capabilities of industry and governmental agencies while improving passenger facilitation in international travel. Importantly, it recommends a paradigm shift to an interoperable digital identity system that prioritises traveller-centricity, upholds privacy by design, and enables the trustful cooperation between international public and private sector partners required for ensuring the safe and secure movement of people across borders.

In today’s fractured world, governments, travel and tourism industry leaders and the public are increasingly concerned by security threats. The report states that a paradigm shift towards a Known Traveller Digital Identity concept will radically transform the way in which legitimate travellers are securely and seamlessly facilitated across borders.

The concept focuses on the use of traveller managed digital identities, which will enable governments, in partnership with industry leaders and passengers, to conduct pre-vetting risk assessment and security procedures to enhance the seamless flow of travellers through borders. Security officials will redirect attention and resources to identifying threats, thus contributing to improved geopolitical security worldwide.

The Known Traveller Digital Identity concept “provides multiple applications for government and industry, across and beyond the travel and tourism sector, to provide more personalised and value-added services to travellers,” says the report.

To support the development of this concept, it says, Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies will shift the Known Traveller Digital Identity from “concept to reality” via distributed ledger enabling trust in the network without the control of one central authority; cryptography allowing an appropriate level of security in authorisation and sharing of information; biometrics connecting the physical and digital world and ensuring the legitimate use of identity information; and mobile interfaces and devices allowing travellers to carry their digital identity with them and to choose to share it accordingly.

In addition, the growing adoption and use by state and non-state entities of electronic passports (ePassports) could provide the means to unlock new ways to facilitate the low-risk traveller’s journey, says the report, while still ensuring high levels of security.

However, as expected with emerging technologies, it notes that sufficient evidence to identify the one ‘best’ solution “does not yet exist” and it warns that every technological decision taken in designing such an innovative concept “must be considered in terms of its anticipated advantages and disadvantages”. Pilot tests of a prototype developed to try out these technologies is expected to take place in 2018 in both a lab and real-life environment.

The report states that for this to all be a viable solution, the drive to achieve change must observe three key values: governments must commit to adopting individualised risk-based assessments of travellers; pursuit of global interoperability cannot take precedence over governmental sovereignty in decisions about their citizens’ security; and the traveller must be given the opportunity to move from playing a passive role to one of active partnership in the security process.

“The Known Traveller Digital Identity concept is the first step towards achieving this systemic shift in travel security. It serves as the catalyst for the necessary, subsequent multi stakeholder actions that will help us achieve our shared vision for the future of travel,” says the report.

READ MORE: view the full 44-page ‘The Known Traveller Unlocking the potential of digital identity for secure and seamless travel‘ report.

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