Sam Hilgendorf on Sovereign Identification in Travel

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Looking back and forth, Fox World Travel Chief Information Officer Sam Hilgendorf offers an introduction to how Sovereign ID works and a description of its impact on business travel.


When was the last time you felt in full control of your identity and personal information?

For me, it was around 1997. I had my driver’s license, my social security card, my passport and my Blockbuster membership card. They were either in my wallet or tucked away safely in my dresser’s sock drawer. At that time, I didn’t know what an eBay or a Facebook was, or that in a few years I would gladly give them details of my identity without a second thought.

With all the uses that have arisen for the Internet, I have systematically lost control of my identity. I started reviewing the retail websites I created accounts on; I counted 50 when I gave up. As a frequent business traveler, I have identity data in the form of profiles stored with vendors, booking tools, review sites and more. These companies know even more about me than the typical retailer, as they have copies of my passport number and driver’s license, and even know when I’m away from home.

An emerging technology called self-sovereign identification (SSI) is intended to solve this problem. It will also change the way we plan and buy trips.

What is self-sovereign identification?

Self-sovereign identification sounds like an abstract and complex concept, but it just means that I own and control my digital identity. With SSI, my profile data only stays with me. It is no longer managed or distributed by the companies I work with.

SSI is built on three fundamental pillars that make it work: verifiable credentials, decentralized credentials, and the distributed ledger capabilities of blockchain.

Verifiable identifiers. Think of them as digital copies of the physical credentials you use every day, stored in a digital wallet app, much like storing a credit card on your phone.

Decentralized identifiers. These allow your verifiable credentials to be shared with another party. It’s like creating a unique digital “phone number” that someone can call to validate credentials. Decentralized IDs can be used for something publicly available, like confirming your age to purchase certain products from a store. They can also be made private for banking or other confidential needs. The decentralized identifier does not contain any personal data. This is simply a verification check that the credentials are applicable and valid.

Distributed ledger technology (blockchain). It is the universal “phone book” that stores all decentralized identifiers. A public blockchain creates a record of data that can never be changed or deleted. Because it’s always available, it’s perfect for storing decentralized credentials, which need to be available whenever they need to be verified.

Travel as if it were 2027

By 2027, it is likely that governments and businesses will widely adopt ISS. Here’s what my travel experience for a business conference could potentially look like:

Planning and booking

As I am planning to travel for a conference in Orlando, I go to my online booking tool and instead of logging in with a username and password, I confirm my identity with a digital wallet app on my computer or my smartphone. This digital wallet is the tool I use now to log in to all websites, email, Instagram, other mobile apps, etc. I no longer have an account profile on every site or app. To access my digital wallet, I use my fingerprint and a PIN, securing it only for me.

My frequent flyer number, TSA known traveler number, and supplier preferences are all verified from my digital wallet, eliminating the need to re-verify them at every stage of travel. My loyalty entitlements are also verified, ensuring that I receive my correct upgrades and gear.

For the conference reservation, I no longer create an account on the conference site or use my Facebook or Google accounts to log in. I use the same digital wallet to confirm my identity without sharing detailed information.

Since digital wallet technology is now universally accepted, I also receive and store a virtual payment card linked to each pre-scheduled segment, and one for incidental charges. These are stored in my digital wallet along with my credentials.

While traveling

As I begin my journey to Orlando, I arrive at the airport. I only use the digital wallet on my smartphone for security. My travel documents are confirmed and unified in a scannable QR code.

Sam Hilgendorf, Fox World Travel
Sam Hilgendorf, Chief Information Officer of Fox World Travel

A TSA agent scans the QR code and asks me to use a biometric facial scanner. The agent no longer looks at a photo ID to compare it to my face; the biometric facial scan is matched against my digital credentials, the officer receives a green light indicating a match, and I am cleared through. The TSA never needed to see my horrible driver’s license photo.

At the gate, I no longer provide a boarding pass. I scan the same QR code in my digital wallet that I used at security.

Upon landing, I reserve a turn. Before getting in the car, the driver scans my digital wallet to verify that it’s really me and my ridesharing app confirms that it’s really my car and my driver.

When I arrive at the hotel, I use the digital wallet to confirm my identity, and with the virtual payment solution connected to my identity and my hotel, I check in at a kiosk without waiting for a receptionist. The kiosk introduces me to a room that my digital wallet will unlock during my stay.

Disturbance

During an event at Universal Studios, I lose my smartphone. I really shouldn’t have taken it on the Hulk roller coaster. I immediately cringe at the memory of losing my physical wallet, canceling credit cards, getting a new driver’s license, etc.

Fortunately, the mobile wallet regularly backs up the data it contains. I just need a new device to access it.

Once back at the hotel, I explain the situation to the reception staff, and they let me into my room. From my computer, I connect to my digital wallet. So I order a new phone.

When the phone arrives the next morning, I restore my digital wallet from the cloud backup. Again I use my PIN, but I also get an email verification which I retrieve on my laptop. Once the digital wallet has been restored, I resume my journey.

Expense report after the trip

This is the shortest part of my travel experience. In fact, I don’t spend time on it. Since I used my digital wallet and virtual payments throughout the trip, I eliminated the need to fill out an expense report. Spending on virtual payment cards is linked to my identity. My finance department already has a reconciliation for the reason for the trip, my payments and the corresponding cost center.

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Self-sovereign identity will be a game-changer for the travel experience; it’s just a matter of when it will be fully adopted. The potential impacts that SSI will have at every stage of the journey are exciting. I hope that once again I can put all my physical documents back in the sock drawer of my dresser and feel like my identity is as secure as it was in 1997.


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