The Future of Digital Travel Credentials

By João Calapez, Product Manager, Vision-Box

In today’s interconnected world, the urgency to explore the transition from traditional paper-based travel documents to Digital Travel Credentials (DTC’s) cannot be overstated. This shift offers a compelling array of benefits, from heightened security measures and streamlined travel processes to contributions to sustainability. Delving into cutting-edge technologies, privacy safeguards, and international cooperation, this article sheds light on how DTC’s can revolutionize global travel, while addressing vital concerns such as data protection and regulatory landscapes. Join us in unravelling the crucial implications and transformative potential of DTC’s, paving the way towards a more secure, efficient, and interconnected travel future.

In an increasingly digitalised world, the way we travel and the documents we carry have evolved significantly. Traditional paper-based travel documents, such as passports and visas have been the standard for decades. Despite the tremendous technological advancements in various aspects of the travel process, there is an integral part of global travel that has not evolved at the same rate – the passport. However, as technology continues to advance, the need for a more secure, efficient, and convenient solution has become apparent and paper credentials are becoming obsolete. The future lies in the realm of Digital Travel Credentials (DTC’s).

As defined by ICAO, the Digital Travel Credential (DTC) is a digital representation of the traveller’s identity which can temporarily or permanently substitute a conventional passport. The DTC is securely stored on the holder’s device and can only be shared with the holder’s consent. Its goal is to eventually achieve a level of security equivalent to an electronic passport and to make it possible to interoperate with existing inspection systems.

The DTC consists of two parts:

  • A Virtual Component which represents the data, it’s a file containing the digital representation of the holder’s identity.
  • A Physical Component with cryptographic and communication capabilities such as an electronic passport or smartphone that is securely linked to the Virtual Component

There are three types of DTC:

  1. DTC Type 1 – Self Derived
  • Generated by the holder.
  • Passport is required for verification and the holder must scan their passport.
  1. DTC Type 2 – Authority Derived
  • Generated by the state.
  • Passport is for reference only; holder must present their passport.
  1. DTC Type 3 – Authority Issued
  • Issued by the state.
  • Passport is not needed; the passenger would just use their smartphone for verification.

Digitalisation has not only sped up the border control process, but it has also increased the efficiency of border management systems at land, air, and seaports. Digital Travel Credentials enable seamless authentication and verification processes as well as offer a range of benefits, including enhanced security, streamlined travel experiences and improved sustainability. The unique nature of the ICAO Digital Travel Credential presents an exceptional opportunity to build a next-generation system for passport issuance, inspection, and verification, setting a new standard for the traveller experience.

Enhancing Security and Streamlining Travel Through Biometric Authentication
The traditional travel documentation process has long been plagued by inefficiencies and security vulnerabilities. From the risk of forged passports to lengthy immigration queues, the need for a digital solution is evident. A DTC allows travellers to securely share identity data from their mobile devices before they even arrive at checkpoints. Border officials can then authenticate the passenger’s identity via a facial scan on arrival. Biometrics, such as facial recognition provide a unique and tamper-proof identification for individuals. Integrating biometric technology into airport checkpoints and immigration processes, ensures a higher level of security and accuracy in identifying travellers. This advanced authentication process significantly reduces the risk of identity fraud, enhancing overall travel security.

Moreover, biometric authentication offers a more convenient and efficient travel experience. Travelers can now pass through checkpoints seamlessly, eliminating the need to repeatedly present physical documents. This not only reduces wait times but also minimises bottlenecks at immigration. Hours-long security and immigration checks get cut to a fraction of the time as airline and border agents can identify travellers faster and more accurately than they ever could by manually matching faces to photos. DTC’s and facial biometrics are on their way to streamlining cross-border experiences, helping both travellers and border officials alike. Digital Travel Credentials take seamless travel one step further by simplifying the travel process whilst increasing privacy and security.

Through mobile biometric self-enrolment solutions and self-check in kiosks, travellers can easily upload and update their digital documents. The shift towards digital identity empowers individuals with greater control over their personal information while ensuring data privacy. It also reduces the risk of document loss or theft, as everything is securely stored in a digital format. Also, automated systems can instantly cross-reference digital identities with databases, simplifying the authentication process.

Facilitating Seamless Cross-Border Travel and Global Interoperability and Collaboration
From a government perspective, DTCs can be used by both immigration and border authorities to strengthen identity validation in application/matching processes, collect and use verifiable data from the traveller in advance of their travel, and reduce the volume of in-person interactions with passengers at the border.

The benefits to Border Control and Immigration includes improved identity and validation, improved data quality (less traveller data errors and cases of intentional data manipulation), enhanced pre-arrival screening (passport is reviewed, authenticated, and validated prior to arrival), reduced congestion at border control, border officer resources directed to high-risk travellers and lastly an enhanced traveller experience.

The future of DTCs lies in their interoperability across systems, borders, and jurisdictions. International collaboration is essential to establish a global trust framework that enables secure and seamless travel. Traditionally, each country has its own travel document and identity verification processes, leading to duplication of effort and inconvenience for travellers. Interoperable platforms can work together and seamlessly exchange information or perform tasks across different devices, networks, or software applications. It enables the sharing of digital credentials and traveller information between governments of different countries and airport authorities, promoting international collaboration and harmonisation of travel processes. Another significant advantage of DTCs is its potential to facilitate more connected cross-border travel. By standardising digital formats and protocols, different countries can exchange and verify DTCs more efficiently. At the end, this not only expedites immigration processes but also ensures a smoother travel experience for individuals moving across multiple jurisdictions.

Embracing a Sustainable Future
In an era of increasing environmental consciousness, the digitalisation of travel credentials aligns with the global goals of sustainability. Traditional paper-based documents require significant resources, including paper, ink, and transportation. Furthermore, the streamlined processes made possible by DTCs lead to more efficient airport operations. Automation and digitalisation reduce energy consumption and optimise resource allocation, resulting in improved overall sustainability. By reducing reliance on physical documents, digital solutions contribute to the conservation of resources and the reduction of carbon emissions associated with product documentation and transportation. As the world continues to prioritise environmental conservation and responsible practices, DTCs play a pivotal role in shaping a greener and more sustainable travel industry.

Privacy and Data Protection:
With the increased reliance on digital technologies, there is a need to strike a balance between convenience and safeguarding personal information. The general increase in digitalisation across various industries means that individuals have become accustomed to providing their personal data. They understand that to benefit and receive a more personalised service and gain access to up-to-date information, they must consent to the capture of their personal data, including biometrics.

Stringent data protection measures, such as the encryption and secure storage, must be implemented to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of traveller’s data. Strict access controls and user consent mechanisms should also be in place to give individuals control over their information. Transparency and accountability are crucial in building trust in the use of DTC. Governments, technology providers and other stakeholders must collaborate and work together to establish clear regulations and guidelines that protect individuals’ rights while harnessing the benefits of DTCs.

Creating a global travel ecosystem
Digital Travel Credentials are reshaping the future of travel, offering enhanced security, streamlining processes, and increasing convenience. DTC verifiable credentials are a simple way to mitigate fraud, comply with data privacy regulations, and integrate with government and airlines and partner travel applications without direct database integrations.

The widespread adoption of DTCs requires a commitment to global interoperability, standardisation, and data protection. Striking the right balance between security and privacy is essential in ensuring trust and acceptance of digital credentials among travellers worldwide. The future of travel is digital, and it holds immense potential for improving the travel experience while addressing security concerns. As we look ahead, it is crucial for all stakeholders in the travel industry including governments, airports, and airlines, to embrace the potential of DTCs and support the development of interoperable systems. By working together, we can create a global travel ecosystem that ensures the highest standards of privacy, and efficiency while delivering an exception travel experience for all.