Anyone who does a lot of travelling knows that it’s one inconvenience after another. Spending hours commuting to the airport, standing in lines to check bags and go through security checks, and waiting at the gate to board the plane like a herd of cattle so that you can fly in cramped quarters. After deplaning, then comes another line up for border security, another delay when you’re tired, groggy, and just want to get to your final destination.
We know that border security is necessary, to keep criminals out and protect against illegal movement of weapons, drugs, contraband and people, while promoting lawful entry and exit. Still, there should be a better way to ensure border security is maintained, while allowing legitimate travelers quick, easy access to their destination.
If developments in known traveler digital identity systems continue to make headway, soon lines will be dramatically cut while still keeping international borders secure and safe.
Known traveler is a World Economic Forum (WEF) proposal for systems that use advanced technology, such as biometrics, and advanced digital technologies, to expedite cross-border travel. The whole system from passports and visas, security checks to border clearances, has significant potential for improvement through the use of smart technology. These improvements will create substantial positive effects for both the individual traveler and the overall world economy.
Consider the size of the international travel market; the World Tourism Barometer estimates the number of international travelers will grow from 1.2 billion in 2016 to 1.8 billion by 2030. The global travel and tourism industry is one of the world's largest industries with a global impact of over $7.6 trillion U.S. dollars in 2016. If we extrapolate that out of 2030 (all things being equal), that adds up to over $11 trillion of economic impact.
Efficiencies in travel identification will have direct measurable impact: more productive border guards; saved time for hotel and airline staff; less paperwork for everyone; and more travel booked.
The effects of improvements to security will have an even greater societal and economic impact. One significant terrorist action has a massive effect on the amount of travel. Improving security through biometrics and other digital methods promises to lessen fears and promote more travel by everyone.
According to the WEF, added together the total impact of these improved efficiencies will be $150 billion in the time period 2016-2025.
Implementing Known Traveler
Any initiative that connects billions of people, millions of companies, and regulatory agencies around the world, faces intense logistical hurdles. It'll take time, but with proper phased roll-outs, it is achievable. The WEF concept is to have three phases, scaling up the complexity and reach.
The first phase is to get individuals into the system. This access and verification stage involves an identity verification step process that connects a single-digital token and a biometric marker. Once the token is verified, the individual can then use that token as identity, with control of its use.
Any company that uses the token can reap the benefits, but there’s no mandatory overhaul of the whole system.
To improve risk-assessments, the next phase is to enable data sharing between different governments. At this point, the token doesn’t replace existing identification systems, but rather the pass/fail data is analyzed for patterns. However, even at this level, there’s exchange of data that raises potential privacy concerns and considerations about trusting other governments with that data. Data sharing deals will need careful consideration and implementation.
At the point where enough individuals have identity tokens and the data sharing infrastructure is significantly in place, the Known Traveler Digital Identity system is ready for full roll-out. Identity, travel history, or biographic information data is shareable by the individual with the appropriate party. Countries can request the information they require. As opposed to getting the data at point of entry, security officials can receive the information much earlier in the process, enabling them to flag possible issues or quickly preapprove low-risk travelers.
Security is improved, as identity processes are improved and risk management procedures can use much larger data sets and focus their efforts on higher-risk situations.
The issues of privacy and government sharing of data are amplified in this step. Without government involvement the system won’t work. Or, if individuals don’t trust how their personal information is handled, the system won’t get enough traction to be useful.
Of course, the success of known traveler is all in the details:
• Is the biometric system secure, while being easy to use?
• What information is being gathered and shared?
• What privacy protections are in place and how are they monitored?
• How will new technologies and new data standards be integrated?
• Does the financial model make sense for all players?
The report goes on to examine these questions and others some insights but, like any roadmap, is only a guide to how the system can potentially unfold. The potential of the known traveler digital identity system is immense; let’s hope we can work out how to actually implement it and improve the travel experience as well as cross-border security.