Unkompliziertes Reisen

Zukünftige Herausforderungen der mobilen Identifikation und Verifikation

In der diesjährigen Frühjahr/Sommer-Ausgabe 2021 von Business&Diplomacy haben wir über zukünftige Herausforderungen für die mobile Identifikation und Verifikation unterwegs und mögliche Lösungen von Mühlbauer geschrieben.

Normal traveling seems far away at the moment. While a little more than a year ago air travel forecasts showed an unstoppable upward trend, since the COVID-19 pandemic, world passenger traffic collapsed with an unprecedented downfall in history. With a 60 percent decline in world total passengers in 2020 and an expected decline of 41-51 percent in 2021 (compared to 2019)[1] we are certainly not facing an overwhelming rush to the airports in the next few month or even next year. However, the goal remains the same: a contactless, seamless and still secure border crossing solution to further reduce the spread of the virus and to be prepared in time for the resurgence of the demand.

Rising passenger volumes and growing public concerns about airport security are only two of numerous risks which airport operators, airlines and border authorities are facing. Furthermore, with increasingly strict security requirements and regulations getting more, an airport’s overall performance may run the risk of declining. That is why, keeping the balance between convenient passenger facilitation and protection requires a close cooperation between all stakeholders.

From a security perspective, managing the passenger flow in a smart and reliable way, with low passenger disturbance and passenger involvement, allows the security staff to focus on hot spots in the airport, as well as on suspect behaviors and to make risk assessments beforehand.

First exemplary attempts to streamline the passenger flow have already been made in airports like Aruba, Amsterdam-Schiphol and Dubai. However, these approaches mainly rely on a centralized biometric register of pre-registered travelers who are identified based on face recognition and video surveillance at certain touch points inside the airport. This allows to track the passengers' movement in a detailed and very privacy-invasive manner.

Since May 2018, there is a new calendar in Europe – the Calendar of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – which requires the citizens’ consent about the processing of their personal data. Furthermore, when designing a system for passenger handling, these privacy guidelines have to be obtained from the very beginning. In developed and democratic countries, observing passengers and scanning the centralized database of facial images is no longer possible. Additionally, all the existing smart-flow approaches have to be put under close scrutiny. The concept of ‘privacy by design’ is an inevitable bedrock, in order to achieve an acceptable solution.

A decentralized, user-centric approach of a digital token seems to be a suitable approach to solve this apparently paradoxical concept of privacy-friendly video surveillance. Bearing in mind the fundamental privacy principles of informing citizens about the purpose, the concrete dataset and the recipient of the data, the system shall be designed as follows: a combination of the classic electronic machine-readable travel document (eMRTD) and the new technical capabilities of mobile devices, as well a connection between these two by means of state-of-the-art biometric and cryptographic technology.

The eMRTD constitutes the trust anchor. A certified mobile application accesses the data in the eMRTD and transfers it into the trusted storage of the mobile device. A centralized or decentralized face verification proves that the document belongs to the user of the device. Finally, interfaces to external services allow adding further personal data. Using these interfaces, the digital token can be enriched towards a real wallet containing ID and travel documents, tickets, reservations, vouchers, boarding passes and a variety of other useful data snippets. Messaging interfaces for third parties allow these parties to request data without any media gap. All in all, there will be no more paper boarding passes or baggage tags, as well as no permanent data storage, as the travelers' disclosed data snippets are only temporarily available.

The user-friendly and privacy-compliant graphical user interface of the associated mobile application allows for a fine-grained and well-informed data disclosure. The general procedure is as follows: The traveler who owns a digital token receives an identification request from a boarding gate. The traveler now decides how to answer this request, for example by sending the required information of the ID document and boarding pass for this dedicated purpose. Doing so, the traveler can pass the boarding gate without any further document checks or interruptions. However, there is an even more convenient way to identify and verify passengers: a dedicated boarding gate at the airport entrance could request access to the traveler’s ID and boarding information beforehand and later on present this information to the airport partners, e.g. airlines and security services, at certain touch points like check-in, baggage drop-off, security check or boarding area. Additionally, the airport could ask for permission to send travelers dedicated information about their journey, e.g. gate or schedule changes, or present special offers from the associated shops and service providers.

In summary, the digital token solution offers substantial benefits, especially for frequent travelers, as it makes travelling more comfortable while preserving privacy and data security. For connected parties, it significantly reduces the burden of maintaining highly sensitive collections of biometric and personal data and building up a comprehensive data storage infrastructure in order to ensure data security and availability. The digital token also allows to gradually add new participants – with low performance and storage requirements. Furthermore, data security is built-in by using state-of-the art cryptography.

Regarding future extensions of the concept, there is a nearly unlimited scope of possibilities: For instance, the digital token could be used by officials as a new type of a mobile ID document. The mobile application contains all data elements of the eMRTD. With use of the trusted storage inside the device and a trusted initialization, the token could become a valuable ID document far beyond the conventional eMRTD.


[1] Source: ICAO Air Transport Reporting Form A and A‐S plus ICAO estimates.