Traveller identification: the key component in both travel facilitation and aviation security

MALAYSIA - MAR 21, 2017: Group of travelers enter immigration control at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Malaysia.

Following the successful introduction of MRTDs in the eighties, which has dramatically enhanced the security features used in passports, ICAO has begun implementing an ambitious initiative aimed at improving both the overall integrity of travel documents and the processes involved in their issuance, as well as security at border control.

The Importance of Reliable and Secure Traveller Identification

The ability of terrorists and criminals to operate with anonymity—beyond the knowledge or even suspicion on the part of relevant State and international authorities about their true identity and movements—is a powerful tool and weapon in enabling those with ill intents to further their unlawful and illegitimate activities.

Conversely, the ability of authorities to confirm the true identity and to monitor certain movements of travellers—and to do so speedily, cost-effectively, securely and responsibly—is vital for a wide range of purposes:

  • maintenance of effective national and global security
  • facilitation of personal and business travel and trade
  • determination and discharge of treaty and other obligations and rights related to the cross-border movement and admission of people
  • cost-effective deployment of security and border admission and clearance personnel and resources on a risk-management basis
  • detection and prevention of crime, including money laundering, smuggling, illegal drug trade, child abduction and human trafficking

Drivers for Enhanced Traveller Identification

The following are factors and trends that encourage and support the sharing of knowledge, insights and technologies amongst diverse States and international authorities with mandates and interests in the issuance and/or use of traveller identification.

There is strong consumer and business pressure for expedited travel, trade and tourism, and corresponding public resistance to security, border control and other processing activities that add avoidable costs, delays, and restrictions to movement. Conversely, security threats in many sectors—including, but not limited to, the aviation sector—are real, significant and continually evolving

In the meantime, innovative technologies and protocols offer new opportunities for cost-effective deployment of security resources where they are most needed, based on risk-management principles, thereby enhancing both security and facilitation objectives.

In that context, the ICAO Traveller Identification Programme (ICAO TRIP) Strategy was approved by the ICAO Council and endorsed by the 38th Session of the ICAO Assembly in 2013. The TRIP Strategy aims to enhance the integrity of the passport-issuance process and to ensure robust identification-management processes in order to prevent exploitation by terrorists and maximize the effectiveness of border security and the benefits of enhanced facilitation of travel across borders.

The efforts of ICAO to ensure the legitimacy of secure travel documents depends on a holistic, and integrated approach to the traveller identification-management and issuance process. The integrity of travel-document issuance is severely compromised if appropriate safeguards are not incorporated into the traveller-identity management process in order to ensure confirmation of the identity of the individual to whom the passport is issued.

Figure 1: The five elements of the ICAO TRIP Strategy

Nature of a robust Identification Management

For this Strategy, a comprehensive and cohesive approach to traveller identification entails five closely linked and mutually-complementary identification management activities:

  1. Evidence of Identity: ensure authenticity of the identity of an applicant seeking issuance of a travel document, confirming for that individual a unique identity linked to the applicant, the identified individual’s status as still living and the applicant’s status as an active user of that unique identity.
  2. Machine-Readable Travel Documents (MRTDs): ensure that the design and manufacture of standardized machine-readable passports (MRPs), visas, and identification (ID) cards for travel that meet internationally-accepted standards and practices with respect to global interoperability and effective biometrics as well as high integrity against counterfeiting and forgery.
  3. Document Issuance and Control: implement effective processes and protocols for the issuance of MRTDs to authorized holders only, including emergency issuance where warranted while ensuring the security against theft, tampering and loss.
  4. Inspection Systems and Tools: Implement technologies, supporting infrastructure, information-sharing and related protocols and procedures to support timely, efficient, secure and reliable reading of MRTDs at borders and verification of the validity of the MRTD for the holder, including by the use of the ICAO Public Key Directory (PKD) to confirm that e-passports presented to authorities remain legitimately-issued and active (i.e., not lost, stolen, compromised or revoked).
  5. Interoperable Applications: Implement systems, technologies and protocols that provide for the ready, secure and reliable linkage of MRTDs and their legitimate holders to relevant intelligence and information about the holder and/or his/her background, movements and actions of interest, in support of security and travel facilitation. Interoperable applications include such functions and linkages Passenger Name Record data (PNR), Advance Passenger Information (API), State-managed security “watch lists” and State-recognized “known,” “trusted” and/or “expedited” travellers and shippers (or equivalent).

Main challenge: Involvement of different stakeholders

As shown in Figure 2, a wide array of Contracting State authorities/ministries and other entities have mandates and interests in traveller identification. These include State-level agencies, regional and international organizations concerned with these issues and services such as civil registries, passport issuance, visa issuance, security, trade and tourism, immigration/migration, border controls, law enforcement, treaties—human rights, refugees, stateless persons, special events (Olympics, international meetings e.g., G7/G20) and emergencies (identification of victims and survivors).

Figure 2: Different stakeholders involved in the ICAO TRIP Strategy


All Contracting States have mandates for, and interests in, the efficient and effective operation of their immigration/migration, trade and travel (including tourism) and border control functions, all of which have requirements for secure, reliable and efficient traveller identification.

In addition to the organizations concerned with the above issues and applications, there are the individual travel document applicants and holders who use formal travel documents (most notably passports) for a wide range of purposes well beyond border crossing and international travel. These include a wide range of routine transactions where credible sources of identification are either required or expeditious, such as banking, currency exchange, vehicle and equipment rental, domestic travel, and application processes for access to civil programmes, services and benefits.

As noted above, the interests in, and needs for, secure travel documents and related technologies, tools and processes, extend well beyond the world of international civil aviation. A diverse array of travel document issuers and users require and/or can benefit from the leadership, engagement, support and/or collaboration and cooperation of ICAO.

Notably, travel documents and related technologies and processes that meet the needs and standards of international civil aviation security and facilitation will typically also readily meet diverse other identification needs and standards, for example, with respect to security, functionality, credibility, interoperability and efficiency. In some cases ICAO-compliant travel documents can be directly used for such other applications. In other cases, ICAO’s knowledge, technologies, insights and experiences in the production, management and use of secure identification documents, tools and processes can be shared and efficiently adapted and applied to the needs of other travel document issues and users.

The need for a TRIP roadmap to assist States in their implementation efforts

The 39th Session of the Assembly endorsed the priorities for the ICAO TRIP Strategy and expected outcomes for the 2017-2019 triennium. Assembly Resolution A39-20, Consolidated statement of continuing ICAO policies related to facilitation, identified national and international action in ensuring the security and integrity of traveller identification and border controls. Specifically, the Assembly urged Member States, through their travel document and border control programmes, to uniquely identify individuals to maximize security and facilitation benefits, including preventing acts of unlawful interference and other threats to civil aviation. Furthermore, the Assembly endorsed the development of a roadmap for the implementation of the ICAO TRIP Strategy.

The ICAO TRIP roadmap has been developed in the context of the No Country Left Behind initiative but also in light of the two UN Security Council Resolutions 2178 and 2309 that were approved in 2014 and 2016 respectively. The two resolutions address notably the acute and growing threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters (FTF). The relevant parts of the resolution  are: “Reaffirms that all States shall prevent the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups by effective border controls and controls on issuance of identity papers and travel documents, and through measures for preventing counterfeiting, forgery or fraudulent use of identity papers and travel documents…’’ and “..calls upon all States to require that airlines operating in their territories provide advance passenger information to the appropriate national authorities in order to detect the departure from their territories, or attempted entry into or transit through their territories, by means of civil aircraft, of individuals designated by the Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015);’’

The UN Security Council has thus mandated States to request, in fact “require” as the resolution states, advance passenger information from airlines in order to match passenger data against the UN Security Council’s travel ban lists for terrorists.


Following the resolution 2178, the UN counter-terrorism bodies also included a non-binding recommendation on the use Passenger Name Records(PNR), namely encouraging airlines to provide, where appropriate, to the appropriate national authorities. Since most FTFs use legitimate travel documents the use of PNR will allow States to better understand travel patterns of terrorist fighters, and to share practices in evidence-based traveler risk assessment and border screening. It is likely that more countries will begin to demand PNR data as well.

Clearly resolutions 2178 and 2309 have increased the political and legal impetus for States and airlines to implement passenger data exchange programs, while it is noteworthy that under Annex9 – Facilitation, API/PNR aim to provide target milestones for the implementation by States of the ICAO TRIP Strategy.

The ICAO TRIP roadmap is primarily based on the global analysis of the Universal Security Audit Programme Continuous Monitoring Approach (USAP-CMA) results for Annex 9 security-related Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) from 178 second-cycle audit results. In implementing the TRIP roadmap, Member States will first need to continue focussing on implementing the TRIP-related SARPs in Annex 9 and the associated technical specifications for machine readable travel documents contained in Doc 9303. The Secretariat has identified 48 SARPs in the fourteenth edition of Annex 9 that relate to the elements of the TRIP Strategy. These are listed in the ICAO TRIP roadmap which can be found here.

At the national level, implementation of the roadmap will require coordinated action between many government and industry entities, such as passport issuing offices, aviation security authorities, civil registries, border control and law enforcement agencies, airlines, airport authorities, the travel document industry, immigration authorities and other interested parties. The mechanism and requirement for such coordination on matters relating to facilitation already exist in Annex 9 through national air transport facilitation programmes and their related committees as shown below.

Governments, in pursuant with their laws, regulations and national programmes on  aviation security, and according to the relevant ICAO SARPs, will seek to develop  appropriate legislation enabling them to implement effectively the ICAO TRIP Strategy. In the international context, the aim is to systematically collaborate with all interested stakeholders to implement each element of the TRIP Strategy.

Importantly, ICAO’s leadership is essential to the success of the achievement of this roadmap, focusing on enhancing aviation security and improving facilitation with the objective to provide States with a blueprint that sets out the elements that must be in place in order to move, for example, from Machine Readable Passports (MRPs) to ePassports, and possess excellent breeder documents and sufficient financial resources.

To this end, there is a need to ensure both national coordination and international cooperation for each action linked to the effective implementation with a view to achieving the effective implementation of the ICAO TRIP roadmap.

By definition, this is a constantly-changing and evolving work effort which is supported by the guidance published here.

There are a number of broader cross-cutting initiatives that are being pursued, including most notably those dealing with outreach to all the involved stakeholders, promotion of the integrity and benefits of secure traveller identification,  expansion of assistance and capacity building efforts for States in need, and enhancement of assessment missions and assistance from the Regional Offices.

Don’t forget to register for the upcoming TRIP events!

The 13th Symposium and Exhibition on the ICAO Traveller Identification Programme (TRIP) is taking place from 24 – 26 October 2017 in Montreal, Canada. You can also register now for the ICAO TRIP Regional Seminar Jamaica 2017 from 28 – 30 November 2017 on Montego Bay , Jamaica.