Canada testing ‘digital ID’ system that uses blockchain, biometrics to screen travellers

January 28, 2018 in News, Video by Ken

A border services agent does a retinal verification on a traveller at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.


The Canadian government is helping to test a new airport security and screening system that will allow travellers to digitize and share travel documents and biometric information with authorities in advance.

Launched at the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the “Known Traveller Digital Identity” system aims to exploit an array of emerging technologies including biometricsblockchain and artificial intelligence to boost cross-border security, reduce the threat of cyber-terrorism and streamline international travel, according to the WEF.

Transport Canada is one of several partners involved in the project, with the others including the likes of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice, INTERPOL, Google, Visa and Hilton Worldwide.

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The system aims to empower airport authorities to focus more of their time and energies on scrutinizing high-risk travellers, according to a WEF report on the initiative.

Currently, when a traveller arrives at an international border, they have to quickly and accurately be screened for permission to enter the country, with border officials required to determine their residency or visa status and assess risk factors in a short period of time.

The Known Traveller Digital Identity system would allow travellers to use an app to store and share information with authorities in advance, allowing more time for pre-screening.

For example, a traveller could use the app to store a copy of their Canadian permanent resident card, degree from the University of Toronto, proof of vaccination against polio, list of countries previously visited, customs information and names of people with whom they’re travelling. Identifying biometric data, such as fingerprints and facial recognition markers, would also be made available to authorities.

All data would be securely stored on the blockchain, which is a public ledger that records data in encrypted form on a network of computers around the world. The combination of encryption and decentralization ensures traveller privacy.

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Over time, travellers can build up their credibility as “Known Travellers,” giving them access to special screening lanes in airports, and allowing border officials to devote more time and resources towards screening lesser known, higher-risk travellers.

“With travellers providing access to verified personal biometric, biographic and historical travel data at their discretion, they can assist authorities to undertake risk assessments and pre-screening in advance: essentially verifying their identities and providing secure and seamless movement throughout their journey using biometric recognition technology,” said John Moavenzadeh, head of the WEF’s Mobility System Initiative, in a press release.

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The Known Traveller Digital Identity system is set to be trialed in a number of pilot projects, one of which will involve the Canadian government testing it in partnership with the Netherlands.

Transportation Minister Marc Garneau hailed the project, which he said will “provide opportunities to make security for air travel more efficient while improving the traveller experience.”