Travel technology provider SITA is exploring the use of blockchain technology as a platform for generating secure single travel “tokens” that could potentially streamline a passenger’s progress through all airport processes involving the scanning of personal documentation.

The technology would allow passengers to create and store their own secure biometric profile on their smartphone that could then be certified as proof of identity and used by airlines, security, border controls and a host of other airport services. The biometric data remains with the passenger, but the certified identity validation is stored on the blockchain database and cannot be amended or deleted.

‘Privacy by design’
Blockchain technology is essentially a public database that allows “privacy by design” and has been proven by its application as a vehicle for secure Bitcoin transactions.

It could essentially render passenger data secure, encrypted, tamper-proof and unusable for any other purpose: it also eliminates the need for a single authority to own, process orstore the data.This crypto-led computer science provides a “network of trust,” where the source and history of thedata is verifiable by everyone.

SITA CTO Jim Peters told the summit: “Ultimately the blockchain is simply a database where transactions are recorded and confirmed anonymously. Whether it is used for currency or travel it is simply a record of events that is shared between multiple parties, but most importantly once information is entered, it cannot be changed, and privacy and security are by design.”

Using selfie popularity

Leveraging the global popularity of selfies, SITA research is using facial recognition as the key method of certification, with the passenger incorporating a selfie as a key part of his or her biometric profile.Certification would involve photographic validation by an airline, border agency or other agency against the biometric data stored on the mobile device, generating a “seal” that other agencies can pick up as authorization to travel.

This secure biometric authentication of passengers could ultimately eliminate the need for multiple travel documents, but without passengers having to share their personal data. It could also reduce complexity, cost and liability around document checks during the passenger journey. Stored on the passenger’s mobile device, this verifiable “token” could in theory be used anywhere in the world to verify that he or she is an authorized traveler.

‘Seamless, secure travel’
“Our vision is for seamless, secure travel,” Peters said. “To date, technology has provided SITA the opportunity to do that at many airports and at more than 30 of the world’s borders.But the underlying design of today’s computer systems means that there are multiple exchanges of data between various agencies and multiple verification steps, which reduces the ability to have a single global system. Now blockchain technology offers us the potential to provide a new way of using biometrics. It could enable biometrics to be used across borders, and at all airports, without the passenger’s details being stored by the various authorities.”

SITA’s technology research team SITA Lab has been working with blockchain startup ShoCard on an early demo of these concepts which are being showcased at the Air Transport IT Summit in Barcelona this week.

ShoCard founder and CEO Armin Ebrahimi said: “ShoCard sees a digital revolution when it comes to people providing their verifiable identity information to third parties. Today we are showing how our identity platform, built using the blockchain, combined with SITA’s unique air transport and border management solutions could improve traveler experience while ensuring security.”

Peters pointed out that blockchain offers “a revolutionary approach to computer applications” because it “fundamentally changes the way we design systems because we can now create decentralized, global, tamper-proof, distributed databases. It is very early days yet and the issues of scalability and adoption rates need to be examined.”