Ranking very highly on the list of every traveller’s worst nightmare is losing their passport. Thanks to the Australians and New Zealanders, that may soon become a thing of the past as the two countries step towards introducing the world’s first cloud passport.
I can still vividly recall the first time I travelled with an e-ticket instead of the old-fashioned paper airline tickets with their red-carbon backs and multiple coupons. You had to guard those old paper tickets with your life because getting one replaced, if you happened to lose it, was generally somewhere between expensively difficult and outright impossible.
As a backpacker or budget traveller, keeping that ticket intact was always a challenge, susceptible as they were to moisture, creasing and general mayhem, not to mention theft. Yet on that first trip without one, I almost felt lost. In fact, I missed it so much that I printed out multiple copies of the emailed confirmation and resigned myself to having massive problems at the check-in counter.
I was an unabashed travel luddite who would have done anything to stop the march of technology and been able to hand forth one of those old paper documents that day. But the trip went flawlessly. I had no problem at any airport despite it being relatively new technology at the time, and my love of the old paper tickets—and the red fingers they would sometimes cause—quickly and completely faded.
Of course today we’re all used to e-tickets and totally accustomed to travelling with little more than a piece of ID (I do still like to have at least one printed copy on me though, just for old times’ sake and maybe as a back-up in case of a particularly nasty network-killing Solar flare!).
Eventually e-tickets were followed by virtual visas. Although some countries still like to physically affix a large rubber-stamped permission into your passport or a piece of paper that you are instructed to attach to one of your passport’s pages, others have advanced to electronic visas which are attached to your passport virtually. When customs read the magnetic strip in your passport, up pops the details of your Electronic Travel Authority visa and into the country you go. Or at least you hope you do!
Well, things have taken another step forward with Australia investigating the possibility of foregoing paper passports altogether. Instead of carrying around that funky high-tech biometric booklet and collecting colourful entry and exit stamps from all over the world with which to impress—or alienate—friends and family, the world-travelling Aussies want do away with the paper goods altogether and have everything stored on the cloud. So serious are they that they’ve already entered into discussions with their Antipodean neighbours New Zealand to see if they want to embark on the same journey.
The technology likely wouldn’t be much of a challenge at all, but keeping the e-documents and the personal data as secure as current passports is a different matter. And then you have to get everyone else in the world on-side which could be an even bigger challenge, especially in those nations in which repeatedly and dramatically wielding a rubber stamp and scribbling copious notes into a passport is a national sport.
Although virtual passports are a natural progression and should not only save millions of dollars but also help to alleviate the awful anguish of losing a passport that thousands of travellers worldwide experience each year, I suspect it will be some time before many of us get used to the change. Just as with old paper airline tickets, there’s security in having that official document tucked safely in our pocket as we make our way through an airport. Not to mention the pleasure of showing-off the colourful stamps that prove what amazing travellers we are or of laughing at everyone else’s passport photo…but certainly not our own!
It will likely be some time before the Aussies replace their blue kangaroo-and-emu-embossed passports with the virtual variety—and even longer before other countries follow suit—but as happened with airline tickets and visas, those days are unquestionably drawing closer.