Electronic passports: Three key global trends

January 27, 2017 // By Julien Happich
A provider of eGovernment solutions, NXP Semiconductors (Eindhoven, Netherlands) shares with us three distinct trends in electronic passports (ePassports or biometric passports): increasing functionality, stronger security, and the emergence of “virtual mobile identity.”

Out of 900 million passports issued, 730 are ePassports, which now represent the majority of passports in circulation. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations agency that oversees international air travel and defines ePassport standards, 120 states claim that they are currently issuing ePassports.

The infrastructure supporting ePassports has expanded as well.  Today, over 5,000 automated border crossings (ABC) gates are operating worldwide, supporting more than 20 million ABC transactions daily.

Trend #1: Increasing Functionality
ePassport functionality is continuously evolving. ICAO first introduced BAC (Basic Access Control), then EAC (Extended Access Control) and today is currently migrating to SAC (Supplemental Access Control) protocols. All ePassports use the same data format, known as the Local Data Structure (LDS), to store and “seal” data to protect it from tampering.

The data that is embedded in the chip remains the same for the whole lifespan of the document and can’t be modified. A new format called LDS2, which is a backwards-compatible extension to previous generations of electronic passports and not far away from publication, will change that. It enables the digital storage of travel data such as electronic visas and travel stamps directly on the chip, and allows the complete passport booklet to be available in digital format. In addition, the read-and-write capacity allows new biometric data to be added.

Countries will have more choice in national policy, and give people the option of submitting biometrics if they want to participate in a trusted-traveler program. Introducing the concept of passport applications opens up opportunities to efficiently automate the processing of passengers and their documents. This frees up time at borders so officials can attend to more high-value activities, and increase return on investment in the border-clearance infrastructure.

NXP’s long-standing expertise in supporting ePassport solutions around the world has led to a huge existing infrastructure enabling easier integration of international traveller programs. Currently, NXP ships

SAC solutions globally in high volume, and the company is fully involved in the definition and standardization of ePassport LDS2, it has developed a solution that successfully passed initial ICAO compliance tests performed by the ICAO NTWG.