Blockchain in Biometrics Could be Used in Travel Security, US Customs Rep Says

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Using blockchain for biometric tracking would be the technology’s killer app in the travel security sector, according to a representative from the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. The news was reported by travel industry media outlet Skift on March 21.

Sikina Hasham, program manager at the CBP, made her remarks during a panel at the JetBlue Technology Ventures Blockchain in Travel Summit in New York City on Wednesday.

In response to a question from panel moderator David Post — managing director of IBM Blockchain Ventures — Hasham said that an area of significant promise for the government’s use of blockchain lies in its conjunction with biometrics:

“One area we’ve seen a significant amount of success in is facial comparison and biometric data. There is a service we’ve created to verify who an individual boarding an aircraft who is as they’re seeking admission into the United States. If we could have more data for the verification from another government party, that would be really great for us.”

Nonetheless, Hasham noted, a significant hurdle still needs to be overcome for the technology to gain traction and provide maximum use value: the development of standardized specifications for communication between multiple organizations’ blockchain systems.

If governments are to implement blockchain, rather than legacy databases, to share data within key security areas such as border control, robust standards for the industry would thus be a crucial enabling factor, Hasham implied. She also noted a further challenge the government is reportedly tackling, stating that:

“Our primary goal is security, but also facilitating trade and travel. Blockchain is relatively new for us […] in the travel space, we are still working on figuring out how industry stakeholders in the technology space will help us. […] Privacy and decentralized information are some of the challenges we as a government organization have a legal obligation to protect.”

As reported, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently appealed to startups who develop blockchain solutions that can help prevent forgery of digital documents, in order to serve the mission needs of various programs under its aegis, among them CBP.

The CBP has already been trialing a blockchain shipment tracking system to gauge how much the technology is able to enhance the verification process for certificates of origin from various free trade agreement partners.

The coupling of blockchain with biometrics is meanwhile being developed across diverse applications, including municipal elections, secure ATMs, and Internet of Things biometric devices in the healthcare sector.

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