How blockchain could disrupt passports and immigration

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The oldest piece of technology that everyone carries around for a lifetime is indeed the Passport. There is nothing in my opinion more obsolete than a piece of paper with stamps on it meant to track the places that we have visited. In my wildest guess, I would not be surprised if in 10 years from now we could be actually laughing at the idea of carrying around our passport country by country.

Blockchain could once again be the solution. It is not a mystery that I believe in blockchain being the greatest innovation opportunity of our times. The concept is so simple and yet so misunderstood by the most, that occasionally I catch myself commenting:

“People do not need to understand how blockchain works, they just need to use it.”

And for as radical it might sound, it is actually quite acceptable in pretty much any other aspect of our life.

Less than 1% of the world population knows how to program an app for a smartphone, and yet such innovation has taken the world by storm. In extreme terms, everybody has one or more cell phones in their pockets, and yet nobody knows how it works at its core. The same goes for computers of course. And by larger definition, let us think for a moment about the stock market or insurance policies. Do we really know what a hedge fund is? Do we totally be 100% confident about understanding every single clause of our insurance? Even further? Do we need to be able to cable or plumb our house before we move in? Of course, some people do, but for an innovation to succeed on a large scale, adoption is far more important than understanding.

Blockchain has been seen fully implemented over the past nine years almost exclusively with regards to cryptocurrency, and because of the word “crypto”, it ended up sounding scary ever since day one. However, the potential implementation of blockchain in other parts of our life makes it so promising that it is hardly imaginable how could it fail.

Given the idea of a shared ledger, blockchain will in future allow health records to be tracked globally for everyone. So if John Smith has a car accident while on holiday in Thailand, the doctors would immediately be able to track any allergy to medication even when the patient is unconscious. In our super modern society and with all the most advanced technologies that we hear about, isn’t it so primitive that doctors need to ask their patients whether or not they have any medication allergy? Blockchain could answer the question for everyone at any point in time.

Back to the main topic of passports, if we look at the issue from square one, we understand that the only reason why a country would ask any visitor for passport identification is to track entry and exit to avoid overstay. In other words, we need to track date one as entry and date two as the exit. There are also some small variables of course, such as visa extensions, reasons for visiting etcetera, but let us keep it simple for a start.

A country would not want to have overstay of foreign citizens that are inclined to crime and create harm to society. This can also be prevented by blockchain. In simple terms, a country’s custom wants to check whether a visitor has any criminal records in any other country. This is virtually impossible with paper passports, despite the deeply integrated international systems, but if we were to adopt blockchain as the main mean of transferring data fully, we could be able to find all the answers in a second. In fact, all criminal behaviors and arrests could be tracked by local police officers and validated block by block by other police authorities or simple citizens.

I imagine the blockchain requiring a parallel internet to run the profile of every single person in the world, that at will can disclose which relevant part of their lives can be exposed. On Facebook, we can all be happy, honest and successful, but on the blockchain, nobody could lie.

For example, citizens could publish in the public ledger their income statements and make it accessible on demand to the requesting institutions. Banks could clear the person’s credit in a snap while embassies could cross-examine the account balance without asking the visitor to present a bank statement. Everything could be transparent at will, and most importantly fast and secure.

I imagine a world where every citizen could travel from country to country without a passport, by carrying only their footprint on the blockchain as a form of identification.

Stefano Virgilli

TEDx Speaker, Marketing Blockchain & ICO, Singapore PR

Title photo by: Himesh Kumar Behera