Bad news passport stamp collectors, you may not even need your passport anymore.

Is there a greater travel fear than being stranded abroad without your passport? At every juncture of travel, the passport feels like the nuclear football, the faberge egg and the only thing you simply cannot afford to lose. But what if you didn’t need to bring one? Instead, relying on information stored in a blockchain system to securely identify you – as you. A new trial is underway, bringing exactly that to the world, with the first flights taking off in 2019.

It all centres around a concept called KTDI, or “Known Traveller Digital Identity”, a technology developed by the World Economy Forum, with blockchain backed data integrity. Blockchain can’t build you an ice cream maker or make you more interesting, but it is the most robust form of keeping data from being corrupted or altered. So far, Canada and The Netherlands are the first two countries to sign on, with test flights scheduled for 2019 and real live general passenger tests for 2020.

The idea is that a person can manage their own digital travel identity, using verifiable pieces of information like biometrics, travel history and any other relevant pieces of information collected by trusted government authorities at borders and other points of contact. Rather than each government or authority keeping your info to themselves, they agree to rely on each others trust data points.

The more pieces of trusted data you get, the more trusted you are. Each border contact creates potential for an “attestation” of the information in your profile, and each one builds clout. The more attestations a traveller has, the easier it is for a prospective country to manage their decision to let you into the country.

In the simplest terms, it’s a system of trust, and the more times you get a checkmark of trust when an immigration authority backs up your trusted data, the better your travel profile. It’s all managed via your phone, rather than a passport, which allows this to kick off long before you land. This allows you to send this trusted information securely far before reaching a border, which with any and all hope will make entry into a destination remarkably faster. You may be able to practically just walk through, in due time, all with more security than any system currently in place.

Here’s a deep dive into it all, via the World Economy Forum research piece.

The blockchain technology allows passengers to observe the data collected on them at airports, such as biometric scans, citizenship papers and relevant visas, but also to manage when, and with whom they are shared. In other words, you know when a border is requesting your information because you choose to share it. Thanks to cryptography, no personal data is observable to anyone outside of the trusted authorities – aka governments – who, are part of the program that are able to request data.

Here’s a few words from the KTDI pilot, which is a collaboration between Google, Accenture, Canada, The Netherlands and other impressive institutions on the world stage.

“KTDI enables consortium partners to access verifiable claims of a traveller’s identity data so they can assess their credibility, optimise passenger processing and reduce risk. KTDI allows individuals to manage their own profile and collect digital ‘attestations’ of their personal data, deciding what data to share and when. The more attestations a traveller accumulates and shares, the better consortium partners, governments and other parties can provide a smooth and safe travel experience.”

So, what keeps someone from stealing your phone? A unique personal key is offered to each traveller, which makes the data incredibly secure, and all information is stored without personally identifiable info, in case of a hack or any other common world event these days. Perhaps most reassuring, you are able to manage and edit your profile with updated information.

Perhaps the biggest question is: if the passport already does this, why bother?

Thanks to low soaring airfares, increased accommodation options and more point to point flights to places all over the world, travel is the most booming industry on the planet. With more than 1.8 billion passengers expected to cross an international border by 2030, keeping cross border formalities more secure, but also faster than ever is crucial.

No one likes waiting in excruciatingly long lines, and thanks to the digital nature of the KTDI program, it will be quicker and easier for immigration authorities to verify and validate each traveller.

So, when and where? The first pilot program is already underway in 2019 with cooperation between Canada and the Netherlands, as well as Air Canada and KLM. The first genuine passenger flights are expected in 2020, open to passengers flying on these airlines on select direct flights between Amsterdam and Canada.

Success for KTDI is based upon a system of trust between governments, who agree that the data being presented to them is the most secure way of validating a traveller, so with any hope, many more governments will join the program in 2020.

HT: YMMV

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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