A man stands in an airport holding his smartphone in one hand and his passport in the other
#Identity Technology

Lessons from the pandemic: digitalization at borders

Global Trends
3 Mins.

We are emerging from the coronavirus pandemic, and global travel and tourism is slowly returning to normal. It’s a different kind of normal though – a lot has been learned from COVID-19, and technology has developed to make airports more digital. Now, many steps are contactless – from the moment we arrive at the airport until we reach our destination, from automated self-service check-in and bag drop-off to biometric border control – all with the aim of reducing close physical interaction and ensuring a safe, more convenient journey.

It’s not just the travel industry that’s embraced such responsive change. In recent years, government services that support international travel have also undergone major digitalization development. As a result, the entire airline and airport experience has become more congenial – and more efficient – while security systems have been constantly upgraded.

In Denmark, for example, which, according to the UN, provides one of the best holistic public digital services in Europe, the public sector has worked to provide an inclusive and expansive service, ranging from digital health passport apps to eIDs and top-of-the-line ePassport solutions.1

COVID-19 has changed the way we travel. There has been an obvious prioritization of hygiene, and contactless experiences at borders have become the norm. But what deeper lessons has passenger travel during the pandemic taught us?

1. Automation is the future

The EU-funded D4FLY project was launched before COVID hit, with the aim of improving document and biometric identity verification techniques at borders. The industry trend toward contactless, yet highly secure, border control requirements was in place before the world introduced social distancing, but it is a trend that was warmly welcomed in the COVID-19 era. Self-service, secure, and accessible registration at border-crossing points makes the entire process seamless and more convenient for tourists and travelers. In Luxembourg, biometric eKiosks and self-service pre-registration solutions have been introduced to make border control more accurate and more transparent, while improving efficiency to help manage a growing number of passengers. In Bangladesh, eGates were installed at the capital’s international airport to ensure efficient and accurate identity document verification. Instead of waiting to have identity documents reviewed manually at borders, travelers can pass through automated eGates that verify documents accurately – and more quickly. Such measures deliver major benefits: the entire experience is made more comfortable for passengers, sustainability is increased with better human resource management, and security checks are made more accurate.

A man with a backpack holds his smartphone up to a reader in an airport

2. Innovation fosters speedier passport processing

Not too long ago in the UK, countersignatories were requested to  confirm the identity of those applying for new passports. Thankfully, digital transformation has done away with this irksome process and digital verification is now possible. With VeriGO TrueID, for example, advanced facial recognition technology is used to allow for convenient and secure authentication using a smartphone. While manual inputting of personal information could lead to errors in passport processing, digitalization of the entire process allows for more transparency and security. One further plus is that citizens can be alerted electronically as soon as their new passports are ready, meaning the entire workflow is optimized.

3. Prepare for take-off – at home

Even before reaching the airport, enhanced digital solutions mean passengers’ experiences are made simpler by allowing them to complete documents from the comfort of their own homes. Following in the footsteps of online booking of transport and accommodation and online check-in, further digital solutions can be implemented to make border control a more consistent experience – from bag drop-off to bureaucracy. A recent ICAO report laid the foundations for the standardization of digital travel authorizations, reducing the use of paper-based forms and speeding up the verification of visa-exempt foreign nationals, for example. Veridos’s SmartTravel allows authorities to implement ICAO’s new specifications and help make digital travel future-proof.2

4. A safeguarding strategy

The advent of social distancing demonstrated one simple yet effective way to hinder the spread of COVID-19, but authorities required further smart solutions to safeguard and reassure citizens, especially while traveling. Digital verification of vaccine records and medical certificates has been one way to help manage the spread of the pandemic, and the secure storage of these sensitive documents is imperative. Digital vaccination certificates must keep data to a minimum – there should be no storage of unnecessary information; they should be accessible to all, regardless of access to technology, which means they should be available as hard copies too; they should be verifiable remotely to protect citizens; and they should be created using a standardized solution.

VeriGo TrueSeal ensures the secure and convenient digital attestation of these sensitive documents, and improves airport efficiency thanks to simple verification: the digital seal just needs to be scanned via another mobile device.

5. Digital transformation: robust and durable infrastructure

The existing trend toward modernization and digitalization must accelerate. So said the International Centre for Migration Policy Development in its analysis of the way coronavirus changed border control.3 It recommended the use of biometrics and artificial intelligence in border management, in order to further help avoid physical contacts, and noted that the increased use of contactless equipment would enhance the health security of border guards and travelers alike. While this is a pandemic-specific recommendation, the move to contactless and an increased use of biometrics positively impacts border control in other ways too. Robust technology helps make border control more accurate, more efficient, and more cost-effective, and it’s a long-term measure that benefits travelers and airports alike.

Passenger travel was thrown into turmoil by the pandemic, but border control technology was not. Automated solutions were already in place, and the focus on convenient passenger solutions had long been under consideration pre-COVID. Nonetheless, the virus expedited change at airports, which hurried to introduce digital measures that protected both passengers and staff, and it’s a change for the better: not only is digital infrastructure more accurate, it also makes the entire travel experience more pleasant.

  1. Denmark tops UN eGovernment ranking once again, Agency for Digitisation, Ministry of Finance, Denmark, 2020

  2. Digital Travel Authorizations, International Civil Aviation Organization, 2021

  3. How COVID-19 is changing border control, International Centre for Migration Policy Development, 2020

Published: 07/06/2022

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