Business Travel: Don’t Forget Your Smartphone

According to experts at the research firm Gartner, smartphones are getting so smart, you might soon be able to leave your keys and passports at home.

Speaking about these developments, Anshul Gupta, research director at Gartner, said: “By 2020, artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities on smartphones will offer a more intelligent digital persona on the device. Machine learning, biometrics and user behaviour will improve the ease of use, self-service and frictionless authentications. This will allow smartphones to be more trusted than other credentials, such as credit cards, passports, IDs or keys.”

Gupta continued: “This is not just about making the smartphone smarter, but augmenting users by reducing their cognitive load and enabling a ‘Digital Me’ that sits on the device.”

While smartphones have been used for some time for “contactless” payments, the opportunity to use them for international travel is an interesting concept which a number of companies and countries are currently developing.

UK passport manufacturer De La Rue believes smartphone-based passports could be more secure than traditional paper passport books and would allow individuals to navigate through airport immigration and customs channels much more efficiently.

However, it’s not yet clear how an individual’s personal information, which is currently stored on an electronic chip on a traditional passport, could be transferred to a smartphone and kept secure to a high enough standard to satisfy the needs of multiple countries and their specific immigration requirements.

Currently, residents of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) can already use their smartphones to fly out of Dubai airport, but are still required to pack their traditional paper passport to enter their destination country.

Note: It’s perhaps ironic, that a determined hacker might be able to more easily access and manipulate information stored on a high-tech device such as a smartphone than create a realistic forgery of a paper product. 

However, concerns about smartphone security go beyond malicious apps and Wi-Fi hotspots when it comes to national security. For example, a number of US government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and NSA, have warned American citizens against the use of a number of high profile, Chinese-manufactured smartphones, citing concerns that foreign governments could access the information stored on them.

During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, FBI Director Chris Wray said the government was “deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks”.

Wray added: “It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”

Could the country of origin of a device dictate its suitability to host a passport? With this in mind, there aren’t too many smartphones manufactured in the United States. Even the good old iPhone is assembled in China.

Aside from questions relating to privacy and security, there are a number of other issues the smartphone passport might have.

First and foremost, not all international border crossings (especially) in developing economies are as high tech as your local “big city” airport.  Manual checks of passports, visas and other documentation is still a reality in many regions.

Secondly, are we to assume that advances in smartphone technology are to be matched by improved battery life? I would hate to be the last person off a long haul flight and stuck behind a queue of people desperately trying to charge their devices in order to enter a country.

While the smartphone may be technically capable of managing our travel documentation, individuals and governments might be a little more reticent. However, there is little doubt that your smartphone is already an excellent travelling companion.

What smartphone app would your never leave home without? Share your comments below: