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​Fly the skies with a 'cloud passport': Government proposes digital trial

Australians may soon be able to fly "document free" thanks to a Federal Government trial of technology that stores passport information and biometric identifiers in the cloud.


Australian airports currently feature SmartGates to read digital passport information, but that data could soon be in the cloud.

Australian Border Force

The Federal Government is set to trial a new cloud passport system that would allow Australians to travel without a physical passport, by storing their personal information and biometric data in the cloud.

The idea was borne out of the Federal Government's very own start-up pitch, known as the Ideas Challenge, led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. According to DFAT, of the 392 ideas submitted by staff on how to improve the Department, the idea of cloud passports was considered particularly "ground-breaking."

The proposal would see information from Australian passports stored in the cloud, alongside biometric identifiers, giving Australian citizens the opportunity for "document-free travel between Australia and New Zealand."

While Australians are currently required to carry a physical passport for international travel, these passports have been digitised for some time. Issued since 2005, Australian ePassports contain a chip that stores passport data and a citizen's photograph, allowing passage through automated border checks such as Australia's SmartGate system. The SmartGate matches a live photograph taken at the airport with digital passport data from the chip to ensure the traveller is who they say they are.

Now, that automation could go one step further. According to Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, DFAT is considering "turning the passport chip into a purely digital one" to create a cloud passport that removes the need for a physical document altogether.

But while the initiative is only in early stages, questions are already being asked about the security of a cloud-based system that stores personal information, travel history and biometric data about every passport holder in the country.

According to Ms Bishop, this question of security is the "fundamental issue" at the heart of trialling a cloud passport system.

"We wouldn't do it if it were not able to be secure. We are just trialling new ideas and we are just in the early stages of discussion," the Minister said at a doorstop interview yesterday.

"The idea of a cloud passport would of course be grounded in absolute security. Australia prides itself on having one of the most secure passports in the world but by embracing and harnessing new technologies we might be able to do even better."

DFAT is currently in discussions with New Zealand, with Ms Bishop saying that cloud passports are something Department "would like to trial and implement" pending the "appropriate requirements" including security measures.

Ms Bishop also echoed the new credo of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, saying the initiative was about putting innovation at the heart of the new Government.

"Just doing the same old thing year after year after year doesn't make Australia a more productive, innovative, creative and prosperous country. So we are embracing new ideas."