A UK company is working on a way to turn your smartphone into a passport

By midian182
Mar 30, 2016
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  1. The smartphone revolution has meant that many traditionally paper-based documents can now be stored digitally. Air travel is one industry that has benefitted from the popularity of mobile devices, with boarding passes and tickets widely available in digital form. According to a report in The Times, it looks like the physical version of another vital travel document could eventually become obsolete: the passport.

    UK company De La Rue, the world’s largest commercial banknote printer and passport manufacturer, has already started work on paperless passports.

    "Technology is at the forefront of De La Rue's business, and as you would expect we are always looking at new innovations and technology solutions for our customers around the world. Paperless passports are one of many initiatives that we are currently looking at, but at the moment it is a concept that is at the very early stages of development," a company spokesperson told The Telegraph.

    There are several obstacles that have to be overcome before using your smartphone as a passport becomes possible, and one of the biggest hurdles is security. Many people leave their passports in hotel safes during trips abroad, but if the document is digitally stored on a smartphone the chance of losing a passport would likely be higher.

    According to David Jevans of Proofpoint, a cybersecurity company, the identifying chips found in current passports would need to be embedded into smartphones for safety reasons.

    "Digital passports on your phone will require new hardware on the device in order to securely store the electronic passport so it cannot be copied from the phone. It will also have to be communicated wirelessly to passport readers, because doing it onscreen like an airline ticket QR code can be copied or spoofed," he said.

    De La Rue isn’t the only company working on the technology, but it will be some time before we see passports on smartphones, and it will be up to different countries’ governments to approve their use. In a few years time, however, your mobile device may contain all the documentation you need to travel the world.

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  2. VitalyT

    VitalyT Russ-Puss Posts: 3,113   +1,377

    I don't like this.

    When travelling, people are a lot more cautious about their passports than about their phones, and rightfully so.

    This will make people paranoid about their phones. Say, you are approaching a check desk in some God-forsaken country, and the battery dies.

    If anything, we should consider phones to be more of a disposable gadget in the future, not the other way round.
    BSim500 likes this.
  3. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 6,341   +1,939

    I'm sure this will will come about but why not store it in the cloud then if the phone goes MIA , no biggie.
  4. Tosikko

    Tosikko TS Booster Posts: 24   +25

    You pretty much summed up my thoughts. At the moment this feels like prioritizing convenience over security.

    Not all information needs to be stored on smartphones. It's ironic that people want to store more and more vital information on devices that are relatively easy to access. Sure, this kind of features seem handy, but as far as solutions go, they aren't really all that smart (or innovative for that matter). This reminds me of the time banks started to release apps on smartphones. That worked out fine(ish), hopefully this will too.

    Widely accepted digital ID's are a thing of the future, but I fear that time's not as near as we'd like.
    VitalyT likes this.
  5. BSim500

    BSim500 TS Maniac Posts: 163   +197

    Stupid idea. It makes zero sense for high-security applications like passports to be "integrated" into hacker-friendly phones. +90% of the security in a passport is still physical with over 20 security features that are mostly invisible to the end user (metallic holograms, transparent holograms, kinegrams, micro-dot printing, ghost images, barcode, optically variable ink, metallic ink, magnetic ink, thermochromatic ink (changes color with heat), fine-line engraving, UV reactive ink, intaglio printing, guilloche, raised dot printing, unique secret typefaces that often have deliberate imperfections (like microscopic fake ink-bleeds on certain letters), etc.

    It won't bring down the cost either, given that most of the cost of a passport is in the background checking (making sure you are who you say you are on your application form) and the security chip. Since there are 1000x more amateurish phone hackers than expert passport counterfeiters, it makes sense to raise the cost of forgery by including even more physical security features in addition to a chip, not reduce it by relying on just a "digital only" ID itself.

    Example : Does the outside of your phone change appearance like this under UV light?

    As Vitaly said, most sensible people travelling abroad will keep their passport plus a little emergency cash in the hotel room safe. If the worst happens and you get mugged, you've still got the means to actually get back home (both getting through and getting to the airport). Meanwhile, all the stupid people will insist on stuffing everything onto a single non-seperable $600 device highly targeted by pickpockets purely for the sake of it (digital passport, digital-payment, etc) then start panicking if it gets lost because they can't even get to the nearest consulate (which may be over +100 miles away) for an emergency passport because they're typically the same naive bunch who also don't carry emergency paper cash...

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