By Ewan Willars

There have been a number of recent developments in identity, and many of these have emerged from the air travel industry.  The industry is experiencing huge projected increases in passenger demand, but building and extending airports is difficult and expensive.  Identity solutions have played their part in helping to increase passenger flows without relaxing security.

The automated biometric passport checks we explored in our Biometric Boarding paper with British Airways, IATA and the US Customs Border Protection last year now feature at a growing number of American airports. The result has been a faster, more convenient passenger journey, and better management of the boarding of the plane, and the risk that the passenger is allowed to travel without being properly identified.

Unexplored Identity Potential in Air Travel

Further developments in identity have even wider potential applications, some just beginning to be explored.

In the immediate future, extending the US biometric scheme to UK soil for the final boarding check carried out on US-bound passengers (and in so doing pre-loading their biometric and passport details to the Traveller Verification System for their entry into the US) is being tested now. Again, improved convenience and speed for the traveller combined with enhanced security is the aim.

Elsewhere in the world, biometric developments are being explored that will take passenger management to the next level.  Identifying and verifying people travelling in a group collectively and in real-time, rather than individually at a gate, will bring further convenience for passengers.

And the facility at a number of airports for travellers to show their passport only once, upon arrival at the airport, will be extended to other international hubs from the test sites in Amsterdam, Aruba, Dubai and elsewhere.

Indeed, questions are now being raised as to whether the passport needs to be centred so much on the physical document alone in future. Perhaps a digital identity that was created with as strong methods of identification and verification as a passport could be used in its place…

Identity, Automation and the Internet of things

One upstream issue that is rapidly emerging is that of automated modes of travel, whether driverless cars, or automated sky taxis and transport drones.  These new models are posing new identity challenges. So much of the discussion concerning digital identity is focused on liability – how can you be sure of who is doing what, and who carries the can when it goes wrong? Identifying passengers accessing and operating an automated vehicle is an important issue to solve.

Identifying a passenger and verifying their right or competence to travel in an automated vehicle is one aspect.  The data that s generated during the journey also needs accounting for, and in some cases attributing, and brings privacy questions to the fore.

And these issues are mere pre-cursors to the myriad of identity challenges that emerge from the use of smart objects and the Internet of Things. When your automated smart fridge is ordering your groceries for delivery, and paying for them, identity begins to entangle not only the owner, but also the mechanical object – in this case, the fridge. In other cases perhaps, this will be an automated air taxi, or driverless car.

As our lives become more automated, and the need to identify ourselves and who (and increasingly what) we interact with intensifies, new identity solutions will come to the fore.  And it wouldn’t be surprising if many of the new developments continued to be trail-blazed by the international air travel industry.