Digital Signature Information Security

Making Digital ID 'as Trusted as Passports' and What Enables Their Security

A passport is one of the most reliable identity documents for authorities around the world. The basis for this trust is modern biometric chip-based technologies embedded in the documents. These technologies help protect and regulate international borders. They also ensure the security of travelers' data. With the accompanying set of global standards defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations body, passports can be universally reliable and secure.

However, the expectations of travelers and governments are changing as digital identities become more common and require the transfer of the same level of security and privacy in existing passports to these new digital documents.

A modern passport
The established trust and security in modern passports that meet the requirements of ICAO is a considerable achievement. A passport must be broadly interoperable. It also has to be impossible to disclose an individual's personal information to unauthorized persons.

Creating this necessary trust for governments and people requires that certain data is available for sharing, verifiable, and secure. The printed information in the passport is accompanied by digitally verifiable credentials containing additional information for personal identification, including biometric identifiers. Comparing all this information gives border guards guarantees that the data has not been tampered with and provides individuals with the highest available degree of trust and confidentiality. It is a process that is poles apart from simple since layered security and technological processes protect the privacy and reduce fraud. However, this was not always the case.

During the early development of electronic passport standards, it was discovered that the chipped information in the passport could be read by intercepting radio signals between passports and passport readers from a distance of up to 30 feet. 
It was an obvious problem requiring additional protective measures to retain personal privacy and national security. Addressing the problem, governments have adopted technical specifications guaranteeing that passport chips will interact with readers only during specific authentication procedures. They are a combination of scanning printed information, accessing stored data, physical document access, encryption and decryption mechanisms, and the live document bearer who can present the document.

These problems allowed us to learn valuable lessons from passport security checks, and it helped set standards for the future use of electronic passports.

As passport identification capabilities expand into the digital realm with digital travel credentials, the same security is being thought through to ensure that e-passports remain as secure and reliable as their traditional satellites.

Going Digital
Modern travelers who continue to demand more convenience and privacy; and governments increasingly concerned about security are the main trends contributing to the changes. Together, these trends stimulate the demand for new e-passport features.

Leading the charge on digital passports is the aviation community – an industry located at the intersection of state regulation and the requirements of travelers.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, aviation stakeholders were trying to find a way to digitize passports to provide contactless automated processes that would replace time-consuming manual checks. However, doing this while maintaining security, compatibility, and privacy is a difficult task.

Standards and frameworks for digital travel identification cards (DTCs) are still in development, and significant issues, such as whether DTCs should be derived from the physical passport itself or generated by the issuer, are still being discussed by international standards bodies and governments.

Once a globally accepted framework is in place, technology providers will provide travelers with DTC codes. They will allow people to check in for flights and provide their information in advance for security and customs checks. An attractive offer for the authorities since early inspections give more time for reliable security checks.

Early submission of data and digital verification will significantly increase the efficiency of processes at airports, reduce processing time, and, consequently, the length of security lines at checkpoints. It may also allow travelers to bypass some touchpoints, such as check-in, and reduce or eliminate the exchange of physical documents.

Today, some technologies would allow all checks at airports to be completely contactless, but it will take time for widespread implementation since it requires trust. Fortunately, passports have a solid foundation of trust and security, which bodes well for the future of DTCS.

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