Your iPhone will be your passport

If iPhones can read your passport, they can replace it

Apple, iOS, iPhone, Apple Watch, biometrics, passport, identification, EU, Brexit
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Imagine if all you needed to do was wave your iPhone or Apple Watch a couple of times to take a flight, with the device handling your boarding card, identity, and immigration documents.

Your iPhone will be your passport

One of Apple’s many missions with the iPhone has always been to replace everything you have in your pocket.

Smart "Made for HomeKit" locks, Apple Wallet, Apple Card, and boarding passes mean the company now provides digital alternatives for most of the items you carry with you.

Why wouldn’t it replace your passport?

Way back in 2015, Apple Vice President Eddy Cue told us that replacing passports was one of the company’s ambitions. Governments are already exploring use of Apple’s devices to replace driving licenses.

Apple in 2018 enabled use of its devices as digital ID at student campuses across the U.S.. This use of device as ID may also provide Apple with real usage data to help prove its systems work and can be trusted to do so — even by governments.

There’s a patent for this

An Apple patent published in 2018 described a system that would take identification data from the RFID chip on a passport and store it securely in the Secure Element that sits inside iPhones.

This week, NFCWorld tells us these plans have taken what I think will prove to be a significant next step toward enabling use of iPhones as carriers of digital identity.

A senior member of the current U.K. government has revealed that Apple will make it possible for iPhones to successfully scan the RFID chips used in U.K. biometric passports to assist EU nationals seeking residency in Brexit Britain.

That this was revealed from the very top of the government shows that the contact between Apple and the U.K. is at a high level.

iPhones that read the biometric chips on passports

At present, iOS 12 only lets Apple’s current iPhones read NDEF tags, relatively basic NFC tags that contain small quantities of data, typically URLs.

These are quite good for accessing product or exhibit information, but not much use for more complex implementations of NFC.

To read the RFID tags stashed inside passports, Apple must enable iOS to read the ISO14443 tags typically used inside identification documents. These can carry more complex information — name, age, images, and more.

Read it and keep

Having accessed this information, it is surely easy to imagine that data being made available inside an iPhone user’s Wallet app.

Apple’s patent seems to describe something like this.

While I don't think we'll be leaving our passports behind — we'll still be required to carry them — it seems more probable now that we'll be able to present ID via our smartphone for most preliminary ID checks.

Apple’s industry-leading device and data security, its Secure Enclave, and proven track record in biometric identity may eventually persuade governments to enable use of these devices as electronic passports.

We may get a reality check on this matter at WWDC, when it seems likely we’ll learn of new CoreNFC features in iOS 13.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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