Travel technology provider SITA is exploring the potential of using blockchain technology for storing and authorizing biometric details when creating a single token on a mobile device, otherwise known as a digital passport, which can then be used by passengers to travel through airports.
Blockchain technology allows ‘privacy by design’ so that passenger data can be secure, encrypted, tamper-proof and unusable for any other purpose. It also eliminates the need for a single authority to own, process or store the data. The crypto-led service provides a network of trust, where the source and history of the data is verifiable by everyone. The same technology is currently being used to ensure the security and authenticity of bitcoin, a global digital asset and payment system.
Jim Peters, chief technical officer, 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 technology research team, SITA Lab, partnered with Californian-based start-up ShoCard to develop a working prototype of the blockchain-enabled virtual passport, which was demonstrated at the 2016 Air Transport IT Summit in Barcelona on May 24-26.
The ShoCard platform uses the mobile device’s camera to capture the e-passport’s unique information, including the owner’s picture, and then compares the image on the passport with a selfie taken using the camera. The platform then generates a digital seal, which is sent to the blockchain to be accessed at a later date by the various airport authorities and airlines.
Passengers then simply scan their mobile device and have their biometrics compared against the details stored by the blockchain. It is hoped that ShoCard could eliminate the need to carry multiple travel documents, creating a seamless and more convenient experience for willing passengers. It is not intended to permanently replace the e-passport, which will still need to be carried in case of a failure such as a lost phone or depleted battery.
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 the traveler experience while ensuring security.”
Peters added, “Blockchain technology 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 and authorities don’t have to.
“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.”