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Consular News– Embassy 61

New horizons for passports

Travel documents may look very different in the future, but managing identity will always be key to secure documents – Stephen Chapman of HM Passport Office.

The main role of the Implementation and Capacity Building Working Group of ICAO is to assist member states in the production of secure and inter-operable travel documents.

November 25 ICAO was the deadline for the phasing out of non-machine readable passports. Some ‘analogue’ passports are still in circulation in eight countries but these will be phased out by next year.

The next horizon: e-Passports
Having almost reached this milestone, ICAO is already looking ahead to how rapid technological developments can be deployed in the production of secure, interoperable travel documents.

The next challenge is to convert all machine readable travel documents (MRTDs) into e-passports with the microchips to enhance their security features. A deadline of 2020 was mooted but has been shelved due to the huge investment needed to produce e-passports, making it difficult for every country in the world to achieve.

However ICAO is moving ahead to build the infrastructure to make e-passports interoperable. Key to this the creation of a Public Key Directory (PKD), which is a database containing certificates of every issuing authority. Having a complete PKD will allow document inspectors to check whether the microchip in the passport has been altered since it was issued.

Chapman appealed to those countries represented at the conference that had not submitted their PKD certificates yet to do so in order to complete the database.

Cloud passports
Cloud computing and smart technology have their applications in secure documents, said Chapman. An Australian has invented the cloud passport allowing for travel between Australia and New Zealand without a physical document. Ireland has introduced a Passport card where all information is stored on a microchip.

There is also work in a new area called Logical Data Structure Second Generation (LDS2) where the architecture on a passport’s microchip allows for a blank space on which other countries can write information, such as visas.

Initial testing starts in January but it is a  long way to go before such a system would be functional.

Work is also being done on a smartphone passport. At a recent meeting of ICAO’s New Technologies Working Group in Bangkok the group was asked to start work on creating an international standard for a smart passport.

Identity management
Building Trust in Travel Document Security is a major theme of ICAO and critical to this is identity management. There is very little point issuing a highly secure travel document if the issuing authorities are unsure of the identity of the person they are giving the travel document to in the first place.

But civil registry structures differ vastly from country to country so ICAO is working to create internationally accepted standards for the collection and updating of civil registry information and evidence of identity.

No country left behind
Building capacity and information exchange is key to ICAO’s motto: No country left behind. So the organisation is creating Info TRIP, a communication platform where passport authorities can upload information about their travel documents and can find contacts in other countries to ask advice or share best practice.

The Info TRIP portal will go live in early 2016.


Stephen Chapman

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