#Identity Technology

Digital passports: DTC Type 3 shows the way

New Technology
5 Mins.

Even as technical innovations change lives elsewhere, traveler journeys that feature visa applications and border crossings continue to be laborious. A solution that balances security with user-friendliness may be at hand, with the potential to truly make travel more secure and seamless.

Imagine a world in which you don’t have to worry whether you packed your passport when you set off on a flight to a distant country.

You will still need a digital travel authorization (DTA) to make sure you can enter that country. However, your smart device already has all the information you need stored on it, and helps you fill out the form in seconds. This device could be your phone, but it could also be a watch or a key fob; indeed, anything with 

  1. A secure element and
  2. A means for it to connect, which could be through near-field communication (NFC), Bluetooth, Wi-Fi Aware, or some other mode.

When you arrive at the airport, your device already has all the information required to identify you at the airline counter, assuring the desk agent you have the necessary permissions to fly to your destination. You flash the same device as you board the plane to complete the airline’s stipulated boarding process. Just take your seat and enjoy the flight.

When you arrive at your destination – provided you’re registered for the service and the airport is equipped to offer it – your device helps you speed through, perhaps using seamless biometric corridors that could check your eligibility to enter that country as you walk. Your device even helps you get quickly onboarded to the local digital payment platform, so you have money to spend in the local currency. 

No more hours spent filling out forms. No more waiting in line as passport officers look at each other, turning an unfamiliar passport this way and that. No more lines!

An impossible science-fiction-fueled dream? Or the next stage in the Digital Travel Credential (DTC) journey?

A man shows his board card on his smartphone

Like an ePassport, but different

“A digital travel credential, or DTC, consists of a virtual component (VC), which contains the digital representation of the holder’s identity, and a physical component (DTC-PC) that is cryptographically linked to the VC,” says Thomas Aichberger, Senior Product & Solutions Manager at Veridos, a joint venture between G+D and Bundesdruckerei. While a passport and a DTC fulfill many of the same use cases, including secure identification and authentication when crossing borders, a DTC in its current Type 1 iteration cannot replace a passport.

For the purposes of our discussion, let us consider how the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council defines the issue: “A DTC is a digital representation of the traveler’s identity which can temporarily or permanently substitute a conventional passport. The DTC operates in a similar way to the ePassport within the travel continuum, and can be validated using the travel document issuing authority’s public key infrastructure.”1

A DTC is available through a mobile device but is issued by a state or issuing authority. It can be stored on that device, rendering it convenient to transport and utilize, as all it needs is connectivity. The current ICAO specifications for DTC include its being positioned for use as a temporary replacement of your physical document in case of loss or other emergency. It could be issued “instantly” on your mobile device, allowing you to complete your travels.

As travel develops, new use cases arise, and technology and innovation continue to thrive, conceptions of what a DTC is, and could be, are evolving.

The evolution of DTC

ICAO came out with the specifications for DTC Type 1 in 2020. The pandemic and its restrictions were in full effect. The first specification, Type 1, was not meant as a replacement for an ePassport, or electronic Machine Readable Travel Document (eMRTD). While it could be generated by a kiosk at the airport, the physical passport still had to be presented (see image/chart below).

A graphic explaining Digital Travel Credential types

As Aichberger points out, the use cases were evident. The information on the ePassport is immediately available on the DTC: if one has the right app, that information can be used in filling out visa applications, DTAs, and other forms. Typically, filling out these forms is time-consuming, and mistakes can be hard to correct after the fact. (One name or date rendered in the wrong order can result in a headache, which nobody wants.) DTC Type 1 could help at check-in as well. However, Aichberger stresses, you would need to still carry and show your ePassport when required.

“A digital travel credential, or DTC, consists of a virtual component (VC), which contains the digital representation of the holder’s identity, and a physical component (DTC-PC) that is cryptographically linked to the VC.“
Thomas Aichberger
Senior Product & Solutions Manager, Veridos

DTC Type 2 contained the idea of a dedicated physical component, or PC. Essentially, the DTC was bound to the eMRTD, and to a PC such as a watch, phone, or fob. While it was recommended that an ePassport be carried, it wasn’t necessary, strictly speaking. However, since the DTC is bound to one particular device, it does give the issuing authority control over it. Upon verification of an ePassport, the issuing authority just has to cryptographically sign the holder’s DTC, and link it to the chosen device. This protects against cloning of the DTC.

Type 3 takes the journey in an even more interesting direction. It is issued by the authority independently of any passport that is linked to a PC. The new DTC has its own life cycle. The traveler doesn’t need to carry their ePassport anymore, as the need to have someone check whether their DTC is bound to a particular physical document has been eliminated. Additionally, if a person loses their device with their DTC, they can immediately have it replaced, once they have a new device.

Potentially, this could open up a future where physical ePassports are replaceable by DTC Type 3. 

Towards seamless travel

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has a vision, “to enable a seamless, safe, and secure end-to-end traveler journey encompassing both air and non-air traveler touchpoints.”2 It defines seamless travel as “a journey during which the traveler no longer needs to present travel-related documents (e.g. boarding passes) or identification documents (e.g. passport) multiple times to a variety of stakeholders at different checkpoints in their journey.” The WTTC further states that other non-air services, such as car rentals and hotel check-ins, should and will be accomplished in a similarly contactless way.3

DTC Type 3 would be a good step towards achieving this goal, especially as its uses aren’t limited only to travel. Car rentals, hospitality, and onboarding for payment platforms all require stringent identity checks, which DTC Type 3 would provide. Additionally, it does away with the need to take physical copies of one’s ID documents, and does away with manual input of information that many of us would prefer stayed out of the hands of receptionists, desk agents, and other third parties. 

Of course, the needs of travelers have to be balanced by the security protocols that nations require in administering entry and exit through their borders. As Aichberger points out, “both issuing authorities and relying parties need to be on the same page.”

The ICAO is working with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to design guidelines that satisfy the needs of both security for states and usability for individual travelers. G+D and Veridos are involved in the ISO group for the forthcoming technical report. With technical innovations that already exist or are in the works, there is good reason to think that a more seamless traveler journey enabled by DTC Type 3 is on the horizon. 

Key takeaways

  • Aside from making travel (more) seamless, an advantage of DTCs is their replaceability. Theoretically, if you lose, misplace, or corrupt the old one, an emergency replacement is immediately available.
  • With DTC Type 3, physical passports won’t be required anymore.
  • Use cases extend beyond travel, to hospitality and to onboarding of new users to digital payment platforms; indeed, anywhere a secure ID needs to be shown and verified, or a form needs to be filled out.
  1. Guiding Core Principles for the Development of Digital Travel Credential (DTC), ICAO, Oct 2020

  2. Global Guidelines for Safe & Seamless Traveller Journey, WTTC and Oliver Wyman, 2021

  3. Ibid.

Published: 16/01/2024

Share this article

Subscribe to our newsletter

Don’t miss out on the latest articles in G+D SPOTLIGHT: by subscribing to our newsletter, you’ll be kept up to date on latest trends, ideas, and technical innovations – straight to your inbox every month.

Please supply your details: