In 2023, travel reached levels we hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. More travelers than ever are moving through security lines, also bringing increased wait times. Now, it’s up to government administrators like TSA to ensure safe, secure journeys, while also catering to customer needs like speed and seamless check-in.
It’s time to accept that our current travel credentialing system is outdated. Some documents, like our passports, we have for 10 years, which is a long time to go without an update. Moreso, this increase in travel has also brought on new types of fraud. As AI expands, we have seen an uptick in criminals using fake digital identities, and these will only continue to get more sophisticated and harder to spot.
Common threat vectors now include, for example, AI-generated morphed photographs where two faces are merged into one photograph to allow either person to pass through a checkpoint. Or digital injection attacks where biometric data is injected into a system in ways intended to evade endpoint security checks.
It’s time to seek new travel credentialing systems that employ improved technology while also improving traveler experience. Concerns that AI (including biometrics) presents new risks are well-founded, but these technologies also offer ways to ensure systems are secure.
Growing importance of biometrics
In 2024, we expect to see an increase in improved credentials and a move to digital, secure authentication methods like biometrics. Travelers are, in fact, demanding this – when given the option between biometrics or a password, 58 percent of respondents choose to use biometrics over half the time.
Today, we have identity technology that enables travelers to register their biometric and passport information remotely, even before they leave their own homes, while maintaining a level of security that meets the requirements of travel providers, ports, border authorities, and more.
With this digital verification process, travel access points can streamline application processes and reduce errors as an applicant’s passport information and biometric data can be collected electronically, eliminating the need for manual entry. This, in turn, also reduces the risk of fraud by using biometric data to verify an applicant’s identity instead of a document that could be more easily tampered with.
We are already seeing this in use with Eurostar, an international high-speed rail service in Western Europe. The Eurostar SmartCheck system is now providing a biometric walkthrough experience. This project issues Digital Travel Credentials (DTCs) to travelers as an optional extra. A DTC is derived from a conventional passport; it’s a digital representation of the traveler’s identity stored securely on a mobile device.
From there, the DTC can be submitted to the carrier and border authorities so the traveler can walk seamlessly through the most touchpoints in their journey. Their face, in essence, becomes their ticket, reducing verification redundancies and saving time at the checkpoint gate.
In the coming years, this can be applied beyond Eurostar where it has already seen success. Imagine using only your face to get through airport security lines or border control. Not only would governments be more confident that travelers are who they say they are, but travelers would enjoy quicker processing times without having to wait through several different checkpoints.
Embracing a hybrid travel experience
Today, travelers want to travel at the click of a few buttons, skipping wait times and reducing touchpoints. In fact, TSA Precheck, a system to speed up airport screening, now has over 17 million members. However, while technologies are employed to speed up the process, these systems still need to ensure security throughout a user’s entire journey and figure out the best tools to create a seamless experience.
With the rapid development of generative AI and increasingly sophisticated deepfakes, even the most seasoned security professionals may struggle when it comes to spotting fake documents and IDs. These near-perfect replicas could give bad actors easy access through physical security safeguards and could result in false passports, visas, and more, if appropriate security measures are not designed into digital systems.
This is a primary reason hybrid experiences will be key for improving customer experience and security. While DTCs allow you to electronically share the ePassport data and facial image in advance of travel while also capturing the most current version of your likeness at a check-in gate, don’t expect to be getting rid of our physical assets completely. Hybrid solutions, where a person has both a physical ID and an electronic one derived from it, will be invaluable for a secure experience
For instance, in credit card security, multiple clouds can be used to connect the bank and customer information, confirm credit limits, embed data in the magnetic stripe of the card, and then distribute the information. This creates a hybrid “digital-first” experience, enabling digital account onboarding through identity verification and authentication, and delivering both a digital credit card along with the physical credential to provide the customer with secure, accessible options. The same can be done with travel documentation.
Travelers will soon get used to having a hybrid passport experience: both a physical passport book and a digital version of the same on their smartphone for easier assertion – like sending your information through an online booking system or travel app.
The next era of digital travel
As these digital travel solutions evolve, we expect to see the use of biometric technologies like face-only travel expand within the next decade. Of most significance when it comes to digital and hybrid travel is the ability for the traveler to own their identity. Digital credential systems provide a more privacy-centric experience, allowing citizens to control their identity data and submit it only to those who need to see it. Digital identity also introduces the possibility of selective disclosure, allowing the user to share only the data points that are relevant to each use case.
As we move into the digital travel age, a top priority will be giving travelers more control over their own data. As digital adoption goes up and friction goes down, travelers’ control over their own personal information will increase.