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Security issues drag wider adoption of ePassports

18 Aug 2014

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According to the latest data from IHS Technology, smart electronic passports (ePassports) are forecast to experience relatively weak shipment growth in the coming years, despite their capability to address rising security concerns at airports and border crossings. ePassports can fight terrorism and international crime by making it harder to forge travel documents but can they overcome their most powerful enemies: political opposition and government red tape?

The market research firm noted that global shipments of ePassports will rise to 175 million units in 2019, up from 113 million in 2013. This represents a CAGR of 7.6 per cent during the six-year period.

While expansion may appear to be strong, it actually amounts to the slowest growth for any segment of the worldwide government electronic identification (ID) market.

In comparison, shipments of electronic identification for use as drivers' licenses, healthcare cards and national ID credentials all are expected to enjoy double-digit CAGRs from 2013 through 2019. Shipments of ePassports will rise at only half the rate of the fastest-growing form of electronic government identification: national IDs.

Global forecast of ePassport shipments

"Programs utilising ePassports face a host of challenges including government legislation, country risk, political opposition and economic concerns," said Wincey Tang, digital ID & IT security analyst at IHS. "This multitude of obstacles is slowing the growth of ePassports compared to other electronic ID systems. The major question is whether the need for improved border security will ever be strong enough to overcome the challenges created by these barriers."

The ePassport supplements the traditional paper passport, adding a microcontroller chip that contains biometric information used to authenticate travelers' identities. These chips employ the same kind of technology used in contactless smart cards, allowing wireless data transfer of ID data. Biometric information stored on these devices includes facial, fingerprint and iris recognition data

Some countries have embraced ePassport technology more enthusiastically than others.

In Australia, for example, IHS is predicting the majority of passports will contain an embedded microcontroller by the end of 2015. Moreover, countries such as Austria, Denmark, Italy, Malaysia, the Philippines and Hong Kong, to name a few, are also mature ePassport markets.

ePassport shipments 2013

On the other hand, some markets historically have experienced more political unrest, which has resulted in interruptions to the deployment of ePassports.

For example, India's major deployment remains on hold, missing the planned 2013 launch. Other countries that are heavily affected by governmental challenges despite the increased need for enhanced ID security at the borders include Germany, Ukraine and Indonesia.

Overall, Asia-Pacific region accounted for the highest number of ePassport shipments in 2013, at 40 per cent of the global market. This was closely followed by Europe with 32 per cent. The smallest region was the Middle East and Africa, estimated to have taken only eight per cent of global ePassport shipments in the same year.

It is also important to note that shipments mainly represent the issuance of new credentials, either brand-new or a replacement. Therefore, the top five listed countries with the highest number of shipment volumes in 2013 are areas where the ePassport market is growing fastest; or they represent areas where the program is either relatively new or has experienced additional initiatives.

This means that countries with mature schemes are often ranked higher in terms of the installed base, which counts the number of credentials in use, and will not appear in the top list for the latest shipments.

Nonetheless, it appears that security-related fears could become a driving force in encouraging volumes, and that government-controlled plans will remain the pivotal influencer in most ePassport programs.

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