Thanks to the electronic storage of data, many countries will no longer stamp a travellers passport as they pass through airport security. The relevance of a passport as a log of locations visited is essentially no more, and the paper passport itself could be made redundant before too long.
De La Rue, the world’s largest passport manufacturer and the producer of UK bank notes, are developing technology that could see passports embedded within mobile phones as the next step in the streamlining of air travel. Much like the capability of smartphones to hold a traveller’s boarding pass, the developments will come as music to the ears of any forgetful would-be travellers, simply as remembering one’s smartphone is far easier than a seldom-used document. The loss and replacement of a passport can be a stressful and expensive process, too, and the hope is that a person’s now-natural ability to keep hold of their smartphone will greatly reduce these instances.
The technology would securely store a passenger’s passport details within the phone itself, and it is unclear which models will be compatible with the tech. Having said that, the capability is still very much in the ‘early stages of development’ - according to a spokesperson from De La Rue - and the security implications of such a new technology will take plenty of time to be assessed. Boarding passes can already be stored on smartphones, but security is far less of a concern with boarding passes; it’s the passport check that is key. ‘Technology is at the forefront of De La Rue’s business, and as you would expect we are always looking at new innovations and technology solutions for our customers around the world,’ De La Rue said, according to the Telegraph. ‘Paperless passports are one of many initiatives that we are currently looking at, but at the moment it is a concept that is at the very early stages of development.’
80% of the British population hold a passport, and any developments that can make air travel less of a stressful experience are welcome, particularly within the EU - though the UK’s EU status is subject to potential change in June. It’s a poor time for the developments to be revealed, though, with the current migrant crisis and acts of terrorism in Europe swelling already rife concerns about border security. Hopefully, national security fears will eventually relax and, as people become more comfortable with the use of things like contactless payment, smartphone payment and the ever-increasing capabilities of wearable tech, unease will settle. The inevitable discomfort with such technology is part of a wider suspicion regarding security of data, and there is no industry related to tech that isn’t facing concerns.
Paperless passports do, though, bring with them a host of very reasonable security concerns. David Jeans of Proofpoint, a cybersecurity company, said: ‘Digital passports on your phone will require new hardware on the device in order to securely store the electronic passport so it cannot be copied from the phone. It will also have to be communicated wirelessly to passport readers, because doing it onscreen like an airline ticket QR code can be copied or spoofed.’ De La Rue will have to put in measures to protect a person’s identity if the phone is lost, stolen or broken, and hacking fears will have to be convincingly allayed. Some US airports - including Miami and Atlanta - have been testing mobile-based clearance systems, according to the Mirror, though it is unclear how successful the tests were.
In the shift from paper to digital, it seems no tradition is sacred. And nor should it be; you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t panicked over forgetting or misplacing a passport and - aside from necessary security measures - the process of air travel remains, in many ways, needlessly complex. If a point could be reached at which all the necessary documents for travel could be as easily accessible as opening your phone, concerns over security of data will give way to very sensible convenience.