Digitizing Travel: Etias, Cloud-Based Passport, Digital Identity And Much More

Travel is not what it used to be. Long gone are the days where most people could only dream of going overseas, few people had passports, and the process of undergoing any bureaucratic procedure related to traveling was a drawn-out, months-long endeavor.

Enter the digital age. As recently as just a few years ago, the world wondered at digital pioneers like the Estonians who, with their collective tech savvy and tiny population, managed to digitize bureaucratic procedures like voting and healthcare that others thought impossible. 

Generation Z and its progeny will have no idea how easy they have it. Finally, the world is starting to get its act together with regard to digitization and streamlining of identification and other important features involved in traveling. Here are just a few examples of how this is happening.

Digitizing Travel: Etias, Cloud-Based Passport, Digital Identity And Much More 1

Visa process simplification

E-visas

Another area that is well underway in several countries is the use of e-visas. Getting an e-visa allows people to apply for a visa online in advance of entering a country, and eliminates the need for trekking to a foreign consulate to wait in line for untold amounts of time in order to have a sticker or piece of paper put in your passport. 

More and more countries are starting to offer e-visas, making themselves much more attractive travel destinations for potential tourists and businessmen.

ESTA

The US has a system designed for potential visitors from forty countries to the US to determine eligibility in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The Electronic System for Travel Authorization was put into place in 2008 for applications, with eligible travelers permitted to enter the US by January 2009. It is a replacement for the old I-94 form that is intended to increase security and weed out potentially dangerous individuals.

ESTA allows for stays of up to 90 days in the US without a visa and is valid for two years from the date of issuance. 

ETIAS

The European Travel Information and Authorization System is the European Commission’s equivalent of ESTA. When it becomes operable, the system will allow citizens from 63 countries to enter the EU for a period of 90 days for business (but not work), tourism, transit, or for medical purposes. It will significantly streamline entry procedures so as to reduce wait times, standardize customs procedures, increase security, and prevent illegal migration.

ETIAS is designed to pre-screen citizens from the designated countries so as to ensure there is no threat of terrorism. 

The EC has been developing the system for several years now, and it is due to launch in 2023.

Cloud-based passports

Mercifully, the world is finally starting to get its act together with regard to digital passports. How many times have each of us panicked at the thought that that little booklet might have gotten left in the airplane seat pocket?

Fortunately, different countries are starting to get on the bandwagon. Two countries that are actively working on the trial use of cloud-based passports are Australia and New Zealand.

In the cloud-based passport, all the same biometric data that would exist on a standard passport is stored in a cloud. Physical passport books contain a chip on which information is stored, and this information can be accessed remotely. It is a major step forward in ease of use, security, and safety with regard to people’s ability to move around freely. You can also get digital passport photos conveniently now. For example, in the US you can get a CVS digital passport photo at any of thousands of CVS locations.

Of course, there are additional hurdles that will need to be crossed before the world fully accepts the use of digital passports. International bodies governing travel, such as the UN, will need to approve any global system before it is put in place, and of course this will take a great deal of time and effort. 

The pandemic further encouraged the development of universal standards for travel because it brought the world’s attention to global health risks and the need for worldwide efforts to stem them. Unfortunately, these efforts are still somewhat piecemeal as different countries continue to have different standards for vaccination, testing, etc, and political differences have resulted in lack of recognition of certain vaccines by different countries. Nonetheless, the discussion continues, and the countries of the world continue to work towards universal standards for disease prevention.

Other uses of biometric data

Many other systems are starting to use biometric data for transit and security purposes. Many airports now utilize fingerprint systems upon entry in order to keep track of people who come into their countries. And it is not only airports that are using biometric data. Public transport systems, banks, schools and universities, and many other places are starting to use fingerprints, face recognition, irises, voice recognition, and a host of other biometric features to smoothly and securely allow access into their systems.

The future is here

The world is developing rapidly towards the use of greater digitization in travel. As we saw with Covid, there will surely continue to be kinks along the way. And there will be continued concerns about hacking, identity theft, and related problems. Nonetheless, the world is very much geared in this direction as life in general moves more and more into the digital realm. The overall movement can only go forward.

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