The Canadian government, the World Economic Forum (WEF), and other global partners in the public and private sector are testing a new airport digital ID system program powered by blockchain technology.

According to the WEF, the new security and screening system allows travellers to digitize their personal information. They can then share it with the airport and government authorities before travelling.

For travellers, the system provides greater control over the sharing of personal information and builds greater trust and transparency with authorities. Canada is currently working with the Netherlands and the WEF to test the prototype.

Known traveler digital ID system

With the current system, travellers are quickly screened for permission to enter the country upon arrival at international borders. Border officials assess the traveller’s residency or visa status and evaluate potential risk factors. Unfortunately, authorities have a very short time frame to make an assessment.

“Leveraging new technological advancements can support risk-based approaches to public safety and security.” said Minister for Transport of Canada, Marc Garneau. This will make “air travel more efficient while improving the travel experience.”

With the Known Traveller Digital Identity System, travellers would use an app to store and share information with authorities before landing.

For example, travellers could share their Canadian permanent resident card, vaccination records, flight history, and the names of people on their journey. Authorities would gain access to their biometric data such as fingerprints and facial recognition markers. The blockchain would securely store the data on the blockchain while its encryption and decentralization features ensure the information remains private.

John Moavenzadeh, head of the WEF’s Mobility System Initiative, mentioned that “travellers providing access to verified personal biometric, biographic and historical travel data at their discretion… can assist authorities… verifying their identities and providing secure and seamless movement throughout their journey.”

Long-term benefits of the digital ID system

Over time, travellers can build their credibility and become registered as a ‘known traveller’. These travellers would have accelerated screening lanes, and in return offer far more personal information about themselves. Border officials can then devote more time and resources to travellers that are a potentially high risk.

Despite the short-term benefits like convenience and speed for both parties, Dave Telka, Managing director of Accenture Canada Health believes that “it’s not about expediency, it’s about verification of who is going through the airport and traveling to other countries.”

With the blockchain based digital ID system, authorities can allocate time and resources more effectively to ensure greater safety in airports.

Start small, scale fast

The launch of the blockchain powered digital ID system for travellers is only the beginning of the roadmap.

“As we iterate…if parts of the technology don’t hit two or three key requirements, we’ll be able to remove and plug and play a new technology stack into it.” said Telka.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Program (UNWTO), by 2030 international tourist arrivals are forecast to reach 1.8 billion passengers worldwide. This represents a 50 percent increase from the 1.2 billion visitors recorded in 2016. Despite the large numbers, the program will follow a startup approach, a “start small, scale fast” mentality.

Telka confirmed that the Canadian government would pilot the Known Traveller Digital Identity prototype later this year.


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons


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