Documents to prove a traveller’s identity have been around for thousands of years. Back then, they were not universally accepted or trusted across the globe. But over time, global standards and common data capabilities have increased the trust that each government places in passports issued by others. Today, for more than 100 countries, a chip in passports stores data securely using the ICAO 9303 standard. This enhances the trust in the information it contains. 

Trusted identity 

In many ways, the passport that we take for granted today is an incredible success story of international cooperation and harmonization. It’s one of the few documents that enjoys a similar level of trust across borders in most countries around the world.  

Until now, the major focus of border management has been identity. A passport, above all, confirms the identity of its bearer. This provides a reliable linkage to other data sources (birth registrations, criminal records, visas and so on) to improve the management of potential risks and satisfy entry and exit requirements. 

Changing times 

Today, there’s an additional parameter: health. Until early 2020, health was not one of the main considerations that directly determined eligibility to cross a border. But it is now.  

The pandemic creates a new requirement. It’s now critical to assure governments, airlines, airports and any other organisation involved in travel that a passport holder is both who they say they are and the health information they possess is legitimate and accurate.   

Testing, testing 

So how might that work? The results of a test for COVID-19 could be included in a digital passport to demonstrate that the passenger is healthy at the point of testing. And as the situation evolves, the same record will be able to accommodate information about vaccines, the presence of antibodies and so on. 

Of course, this is a challenging and dynamic environment. New rules and processes will need to be updated constantly as efforts to combat the COVID-19 virus develop around the world. For example, governments will need to make determinations about the relative efficacy and duration of the different vaccines that are now emerging. And they will need to act as we learn more about the effects of the vaccines once rolled out in the real world.

Multiple permutations of different health measures and standards will need to be addressed and accommodated. That will require dynamic risk assessments based on changing health information for some time to come. Traditionally, the certification of health has been a manual process. World ID Travel offers governments, border forces, airports, airlines and others a secure and fraud-proof way to record and share vital health information through digital channels.  

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Governments have a role to play in enabling that in a secure way, with robust systems and processes that can ensure that identity and health data are secure and reliable.  

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Navigating complexity 

Navigating this complex environment will be a key challenge for border agencies in the coming months. Travel advice changes frequently with restrictions imposed and lifted all the time. The travelling public will have to monitor those changing rules closely and they need clear information on which they can base their travel plans. Governments have a role to play in enabling that in a secure way, with robust systems and processes that can ensure that identity and health data are secure and reliable.  

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An open window to secure the future 

As border agencies face this challenge, they also have a clear opportunity to accelerate digital initiatives that enable agencies to manage and process traveller health and identity data more efficiently and effectively than ever. With levels of travel at record lows there is a window to transform and put in place new digital infrastructure ready for when travel volumes rebound. And, of course, creating a way to share and verify trusted health information now could prove enormously valuable against any future outbreak of infectious disease, and help to minimise the disruption it may cause. 

How do you think that we can restart travel while keeping everyone safe? If you are interested the notion that trust is the key to turn travel back on read my previous blog on this topic.  

Blogs in this series

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Gerco Landman

Senior Manager – Consulting, Public Service, Australia & New Zealand

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