New ‘Global’ Trusted Traveler Concept Could Increase Efficiency, but Raises Questions on Technology and Sovereignty

At the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, last month Accenture, in collaboration with the WEF, the Canadian and Dutch governments and other stakeholder groups introduced The Known Traveller Digital Identity (KTDI).

KTDI “aims to build an encrypted, biometrically-protected profile that air travellers can show at border checks to demonstrate that they are a low risk to national security. Users are encouraged to pre-screen themselves by entering personal info into the app, with each verified piece of information contributing to a better trust rating.” The WEF compared the KTDI to existing trusted-traveller programs, such as Nexus, which uses pre-screening checks to clear Canadian and American citizens through customs between the two countries. However, unlike Nexus, KTDI is intended to be applied on a global scale.

The concept of a globally reciprocal trusted traveler program, allowing travelers to upload their biometric-verified data to be validated by any participating border authority, certainly has the potential to increase efficiency in global air travel. Border and immigration management authorities around the world are launching trusted traveler initiatives similar to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s ‘Global Entry’ Program, while working, often binationally, to share and verify each other’s data to essentially reciprocate background checks.

The challenging part in expanding those reciprocations would be getting various nations to agree on what criteria to use in granting travelers ‘trusted’ status and eligible for expedited screening benefits. Or, potentially, travelers could be considered trusted by one border authority, but not another based on how their data is screened. For various countries in the network to share traveler-submitted data, the KTDI would use distributed ledger technology among four key components:

  1. Distributed ledger technology enables trust in the network without a central authority;
  2. Cryptography allows for the required level of security in authorization and information sharing;
  3. Biometrics connect the physical and digital world and validates identity claims;
  4. And, Mobile interfaces and devices allow travelers to carry their digital identity and share their identity at their discretion.

​Like existing trusted traveler programs, KTDI provides travelers with faster processing and authorities with enhanced risk management capabilities. However, KTDI is unique in bringing certain features together, such as allowing travelers to decide how much information they submit, which would allow authorities to decide their ‘trusted’ status. Also, unlike current systems, the KTDI offers travelers greater security due to its decentralized approach, the system is not managed by a central authority.

However, critics of the KTDI have suggested that the concept poses security challenges with its decentralized approach and reliance on distributed ledger technology, which is still in its infancy. Additionally, more research is needed to identify the costs associated with this concept and how costs would be distributed among participant countries and travelers.

Overall, the KTDI introduces some interesting concepts in its approach to border management and CT Strategies looks forwards to seeing how the concept evolves.