Interview: Hans Miller on the Mobile Passport Control app
13 April 2016 15:36 GMT

The MPC allows eligible travellers to submit their passport information and customs declaration form to US Customs and Border Protection ahead of time through their smartphone or tablet.

Launched in 2013, the app was first used in in Atlanta, but by last December was available in Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Seattle-Tacoma. In January, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport became the latest facility to add the capability.

connect:ID talked to Hans Miller, CEO, Airside Mobile, USA, about the challenges behind developing the app and more overarching trends of mobile identity.

Can you tell us some of the background story behind the Mobile Passport App?

Every traveller can tell you a nightmare story about waiting in a long line for customs at some point in their lives. At JFK last summer, the lines were up to four hours long. Back in 2012, we noticed that US Customs and Border Protection (US CBP) was piloting Automated Passport Control kiosks, and we thought that a mobile platform might be a great alternative. Previously, we had helped lead the introduction of mobile boarding passes in the US, so we had a fair amount of knowledge when it came to the security issues involved.

We partnered with Airports Council International-North America to bring the Mobile Passport concept to US CBP, and they were extremely receptive to the idea. It may be surprising to some people, but they were really committed to being innovative with this project. In August of 2014, the combined team – including support from Boeing and hardware from IER – launched the Mobile Passport pilot program at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and immediately saw great results.

Mobile Passport Control has added a number of airports in recent months and continues to grow; why is it proving popular with airports and travellers?

For travellers, Mobile Passport is a no-brainer. It’s an easy way to breeze through passport control and customs without waiting in long lines. It’s free, there’s no background check or interview required, and you can use it immediately after downloading. For each trip, you submit your information upon landing and receive a digital, encrypted barcode receipt on your smartphone that gives you access to the express Mobile Passport Control queue. Because the time per passenger is reduced dramatically, the program scales beautifully.

For the airports and airlines, Mobile Passport is a very cost-effective way to speed up the passport control and customs clearance processes. When those processes back up in long lines, travellers miss flights, spend less time eating and shopping, and generally get irritated. The cost to the industry is in the billions. Mobile Passport is easy and very inexpensive to implement at an airport, and it makes efficient use of the limited floor space available in these terminals.

How can the border security and travel industries ensure that they remain on top of mobile identity trends?

It’s an interesting situation, because mobile identity technology is way out in front of where the policy is. Obviously, conferences like connect:ID that bring together policy and technology are invaluable. I think that the big challenge for the industry is sorting out which approaches can form the basis for a standard. There’s a lot of really interesting technology out there. It can be tempting to just go with the big players and trust that they’ve vetted the technologies, but speaking from experience as a former PM on the buyer side, that’s not always the way to go. I think that we’ve shown that a small company with deep understanding of the policy implications can often provide a solution with far less cost and a far shorter timeline to implementation. Small-scale pilots and tests can be extremely worthwhile to sort out quickly which ideas have value and which ones are infeasible.

Why are mobile devices emerging as a likely future authentication tool in a number of arenas?

Mobile devices – or more precisely, the platforms backing them – provide much more functionality around the use case than a standalone digital credential or ePassport or even a pure biometric system. NFC is great, biometrics are great – we will see new ID form factors. But the other half of that equation is what the use case environment is going to look like. We are big believers that context matters, that the information that surrounds an ID-enabled transaction is important. Buying a bottle of wine should be a one-step transaction – payment and ID in a single payload. At the same time, you will want to share different information (i.e. boarding pass, PreCheck status, and ID) for going through TSA checkpoints but still have a one-step transaction. That’s much easier to accomplish with mobile devices.

Do you believe that credentials stored on mobiles can be as securely protected as traditional secure documents?

Yes. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be in this business. We don’t think that traditional secure documents are all that secure anymore. And we certainly don’t think that the ID transaction processes for those traditional documents are particularly secure. That’s an issue that has come to the forefront in the past couple of years, especially with the point-of-sale attacks. It isn’t enough to protect the credential, whether it's a traditional document or a digital ID – you have to protect the transaction environment end-to-end. That’s really hard to do with traditional documents. Mobile ID platforms can be compartmentalized and secured in ways that traditional ID systems can’t. Look at some of the work that Apple and others are doing in the digital wallet space. This is still new stuff, and it’s good to be sceptical, but mobile has a huge advantage over traditional documents because it is so much easier to evolve defensively.

People are very interested in the concept of a ‘cloud passport’. How would you envision such as solution working and does it sound feasible to you?

I think it is not only feasible but also inevitable. As mobile payment grows more mainstream, people are going to want the convenience of going about their day without having a physical ID on them. The architecture may not look quite like what people expect, but the functionality is very close to being real. We expect to test a version of Mobile Passport later this year that will essentially be just that. The challenges now are truly around policy more than technology, and happily, policymakers are realizing that digital ID is an opportunity to improve convenience, reduce costs, and improve security. Change is coming. Maybe faster than we think.

 

 

 

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