- Passport apps, or “digital wallets” help you clear Immigration and customs in a flash.
- More and more countries are using this solution to make border checks more efficient.
- The future beckons for their widespread adoption, offer a new dimension to identification and travel convenience.
Traveling is not always simple, or easy. Crowded flights, baggage claim delays, long queues at passport check counters inevitably form part of the travel experience.
Border protection, though occasionally inconvenient, is crucial for a safety and security of a country’s citizens and residents.
Fortunately, there’s one technology that shows promise in making travel faster while improving nations’ security. And that solution involves an already essential travel document – the passport.
Enter “passport apps”, or more commonly known as “digital wallets". They're a new generation of apps to help you breeze through immigration or customs gates within seconds.
Passports apps (not to be confused with digital passports, or e-passports) now allow travellers and authorities to embrace the virtual realm while boosting security. Here, we give you key insights into this evolving landscape:
What are passport apps?
They are mobile applications (apps) designed to create a secure platform for storing and managing your identification documents — passports, driver's licenses, and various IDs — on smartphones.
These apps have morphed into "digital wallets" in the last few years (see timeline, below). They work wonders in personal identification, allowing quick retrieval of data when needed, streamlining processes that require physical document presentation, including at airports or border/customs checkpoints.
Digital passport app vs. e-Passport: What's the difference?
It's essential to differentiate between passport apps and e-passports. E-passports are physical passports that have embedded chips containing biometric data; passport apps are downloadable smartphone applications.
Can digital passport apps replace physical/e-passports?
No, digital passport apps complement, but not replace, traditional passports.
Inception and early development:
As digital tools evolve, the development and use of passport apps / wallets have grown alongside mobile technology. The advent of open-source blockchain technology is poised to elevate the privacy and security of identity networks.
The early 2010s witnessed the emergence of ePassports, integrating biometric data. The groundwork was laid for merging ePassport data with mobile passport apps.
What are example of passport apps?
A notable example is Mobile Passport Control (MPC) launched in 2014, which simplifies US Customs inspections for US citizens, legal residents, and Canadian visitors.
Another is the "UAE Wallet", launched in Dubai in 2017, which enables travelers to use smartphones at smart gates, a milestone in travel convenience.
Others include ID.me, which offers versatile digital wallet services; Yoti, which secures digital identities; and VeriMe facilitates document verification.
Mobile Passport Control (MPC):
This app, known as Mobile Passport Control (MPC), available both on Android and iOS platforms, is authorised by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It allows US citizens, US legal permanent residents and Canadian visitors to submit their passport and travel information electronically when arriving at select US airports and cruise ports, potentially reducing wait times at customs.
Passport.app, a Swiss-made software and a product of Travizory Border Security SA, stores your passport on your phone for secure access on-the-go and keeps track of expiry dates and saves money by avoiding expensive last-minute renewals.
On your mobile device, it can save multiple passports and identity documents to use when you’re on-the-go. The developer said your digital passport is stored in your mobile device's secure area. It also allows you to easily share your details, on your terms, with total control over what information you want to share, with whom and when.
In addition to passports, ID.me provides a digital wallet for storing and verifying various forms of identification, including driver's licences and other government-issued IDs. It's often used for online identity verification and access to various services.
The platform, founded by Blake Hall in 2010, initially focused on serving US military veterans by helping them access various benefits and discounts. Over the years, ID.me expanded its services to include a broader range of identity verification solutions for both individuals and businesses.
Yoti is a digital identity platform that offers a mobile app for securely storing personal identification documents and biometric data. It is designed to help individuals prove their identity online and in-person while maintaining control over their data.
VeriMe is a digital identity and document verification app that allows users to store and share their identification documents digitally, as well as verify the authenticity of others' documents.
Civic is a blockchain-based identity verification platform that provides users with a secure way to store and share personal information, including identification documents, while maintaining control over their data.
Shufti Pro offers an identity verification service through its app, which includes document verification using OCR (optical character recognition) technology. It's used by businesses to verify customer identities in various industries.
Apple's Wallet app, available on iOS devices, allows users to store various types of digital cards, including boarding passes, event tickets, and loyalty cards. Some governments have partnered with Apple to allow citizens to store digital versions of their driver's licenses and state IDs.
Google Pay offers a “digital wallet” that allows users to store payment cards, loyalty cards, and transit passes. Similar to Apple Wallet, Google is working on incorporating government-issued IDs into its digital wallet for select regions.
Samsung Pay, available on Samsung devices, includes a digital wallet feature that can store payment cards and loyalty cards. Samsung has also announced plans to support digital driver's licenses and other identification documents.
What are verifiable credential 'wallets'?
Apps built on blockchain technology — such as uPort and Sovrin — allow individuals to manage their digital identities, and could become the norm in the future. These are specialised “digital wallets” designed to store and present verifiable credentials, which include various types of ID-related information, such as official identification documents and certifications.
Sovrin Network is a blockchain-based public service utility that enables self-sovereign identity on the Internet. Sovrin's open-source tools/libraries help create private and secure data management solutions that then run on its IDnetwork. The Sovrin Foundation charges a small fee for writing to the public ledger but does not charge for the act of issuing a credential– issuing credentials on Sovrin is free.
Countries worldwide are embracing comprehensive digital passport apps, expanding functionality beyond identification, incorporating health records, travel history, and security measures. The pandemic bolstered interest in "contactless" ID solutions, like digital health certificates. These verify COVID-19 test results and vaccination status.
Using NFC-enabled devices
Smartphones with Near-Field Communication (NFC) capabilities can "read" data from chip-embedded passports, enhancing convenience and data access.
170number of countries that now issue biometric passports equipped with Near-Field Communication (NFC) chips for contactless reading.
While mobile passport apps streamline travel, cybersecurity remains paramount.
Verifiable credential “wallets” offer one solution. Apps built on blockchain technology—such as uPort and Sovrin — allow individuals to manage their digital identities, and could become the norm in the future.
These are specialised digital wallets designed to store and present verifiable credentials, which include various types of ID-related information, such as official identification documents and certifications. Sovrin, a blockchain-based public service utility, is one example.
Commencing with a pilot initiative this year (2023), each member state is mandated to provide its citizens with a digital ID wallet that holds applicability across the entire bloc.
Will there be a single passport app?
It's expected that passport apps or wallets will continue to evolve, offering more features and enhanced security measures. Ongoing discussions and collaborations between governments, technology companies, and international organisations are aimed at establishing standardised frameworks for digital identification and travel.
Standardisation efforts are likely to take place to ensure interoperability between different digital identification systems. Still, the adoption and rollout of digital passport apps can vary widely based on regional policies, technological advancements, security and other factors.
For individuals such as travelers and truck drivers, the conventional process of waiting in queues and presenting physical documents can be bypassed. Instead, they can utilize a digital wallet that instantly displays their comprehensive identification and country of origin.
Furthermore, this digital wallet can even receive and manage documents while they are on the move, negating the need for traditional stamping and processing procedures.
The versatility of a digital wallet extends to maintaining privacy. For instance, when required to prove age for entry into a venue, one can validate their age status without disclosing their exact age, name, or complete identity.
Additionally, digital wallets have the capacity to fulfill background checks without divulging all personal information. In place of divulging an entire year's worth of bank statements, a digital wallet empowers individuals to pass rental guarantor checks—such as those needed for a child's college accommodation—without the necessity of revealing every detail.
What’s the future of passport apps/digital wallets? How safe are they?
In general, mobile passport apps are designed to be both secure and convenient. Concerns about security come with every digital solution. A survey by Panda Security, a manufacturer of antivirus solutions, found that 56 per cent of the people worry about the security of their data.
To answer this question, consider the following points:
The integration of smartphones with blockchain technology, AI and machine learning, application security, intrusion detection system (IDS) and intrusion prevention System (IPS), data loss prevention (DLP) & data encryption — could help bolster digital passport app security.
The convergence of these technologies makes biometrics and digital IDs inevitable, say experts.
Paper-based transactions face disruption:
Digital tech continues to disrupt old-world solutions, while boosting security. Justin Walker, vice-president for digital transformation at Thales, a Paris-based aerospace, defence, transportation and security systems company, said: “We are living in a global world. The real truth is that banking, payments, driving licences and passports will eventually all be digital — and you will only use a physical passport or bank card for countries which have not caught up yet with this technology.”
By necessity, any digital identity solution that keeps pertinent records of citizens is contingent upon a high level of security. Unbeknownst to many, our personal information is already being held in a digital wallet. For banking transactions, for example, each has a digital safe of information on individual users to improve data security. Every time you log in, your bank can immediately see which phone, SIM card and International Mobile Equipment Identity number is being used, as well as if they have been linked to any criminal activity. Security forms the bedrock for passport apps’ widespread adoption, argues Walker. “You will need a secure platform to issue those digital credentials, securely provision them and store them into a digital wallet to keep those items safe,” said Walker.
As technology evolves, there would be a need for standards. A global standard for digital ID or wallet that includes biometrically-secure personal ID — i.e. passports, birth certificates, driving licences, land registry or other details — will boost its adoption. It’s now also possible have more than one digital wallet — including a “tax wallet” (with proof of tax and earnings), as well as a “personal wallet” with your passport, driving licence and other ID inside, would be there.
Passport apps, or digital IDs, will continue to evolve. The tech behind it is there. The need to speed up travel is there/ Inevitably, standardisation work through regional blocs, such as the European Union, or a wider international collaboration would happen. As this shift take place, passport apps will become even more powerful, convenient and secure tools, which would inevitably lead to their broader adoption, thus helping everybody's lives.