The virtual passport was initiated in 2015 in Australia out of a hackathon-style innovation event led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
It aims to see information from Australian passports stored in the cloud, alongside biometric identifiers, giving Australian citizens the opportunity for document-free travel between Australia and New Zealand.
With a virtual passport, a traveller's identity and biometrics data would be stored in a cloud, so passengers would no longer need to carry their passports and risk having them lost or stolen.
Digital Travel Credentials are rapidly becoming a hot topic worldwide, gaining support from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the UN agency in charge of ePassport standardization.
In the meantime, Australia and New Zealand are considering a trial run of the digital passports.
Let's consider two examples to understand the power of such initiative and understand why cloud passports or more precisely Digital Travel Credentials can be ideal companions to physical documents.
You lose your passport while on travel.
Your consulate or Embassy could activate on your mobile phone a digital copy, retrieved from the Government Passport Agency's servers so that you can cross borders.
Data in the mobile phone is signed using the same certificate than the data stored in the chip of the passport booklet that you lost, providing a much better level of security than most emergency travel documents (usually a piece of paper with some basic security features, and manual issuance in a Consulate).
You apply for a visa.
You must often visit a Consulate to apply for a visa since you must give your passport for the visa to be issued in the visa pages of the booklet.
With Digital Travel Credentials, passport data could be transferred directly between the applicant's passport issuing authority and the visa office. This speeds up the process for both the visa office and the applicant while allowing for a higher level of confidence in the data provided.
With the next version of the ePassport specification (see our page on LDS2), it will even make it possible for the applicant to securely download the visa from the visa office in its passport, using a mobile phone, for a faster check at point of entry in the country.
Such a use case can also be useful for pre-travel authorization since it increases the level of confidence in the data provided by the applicant.
That's not all.
In June 2016, the ICAO New Technologies Working Group has created a new sub-group on digital travel credentials. The ongoing work done on next-generation ePassport, where visas and entry/exit stamps will optionally be stored in the micro-controller, has been transferred to this sub-group, given the natural convergence between the two topics.
Thales is actively involved in the standardization committees of ICAO and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which allows us to rapidly integrate all new protocols for the benefits of our customers.
We believe it is our mission to report and share trends and best practices from around the world.
For more information visit our electronic passports: facts and trends 2018-2020 web dossier.