Australia pilots NFC-enabled digital visa app

Australia's digital visa app lets travellers prove their identity by scanning their passport with an NFC phone.
APPLICATION: The ETA app leverages optical character recognition (OCR) and NFC technology

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs is piloting an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) app that enables eligible travellers to apply for an electronic visa to enter the country and authenticate their identity credentials by scanning their passport with an NFC-enabled mobile device.

The ETA app leverages optical character recognition (OCR) and NFC technology to read, capture and authenticate the identity data held on the chip in an applicant’s passport and then enable the applicant to verify their “liveness” with a selfie during the application process.

“Accurately capturing important application data directly from a trusted source eliminates data entry errors and inconsistencies that impact visa processing,” Sujit Sunthankar of technology provider Sita explains in an interview posted on the company’s website.

“The app authenticates and validates electronic passports through the smartphone’s NFC capability at the point of application rather than at physical borders.

“Access to the passport chip is obtained by using OCR to read the printed machine-readable zone (MRZ) on the inside of a passport and deriving a key. This key allows the chip to be accessed and authenticated using the digital certificates within the chip, ensuring the passport is genuine and the chip has not been compromised.

“Once the chip has been authenticated, the data on the chip — which consists of the travel document, identity data and a digital image of the passport holder — is read. It is then compared with a selfie image capture before proceeding.

“The selfie image capture process performs complex liveness and anti-spoofing checks against multiple face risk profiles, which strengthens the identity verification of the applicant. These important security checks are undertaken seamlessly in real time by the app without inconveniencing the applicant.

“The OCR, NFC, selfie image and complex liveness and anti-spoofing checks are integrated within the app in a novel manner, in what we believe to be an international first.”

Australia originally began rolling out the ETA electronic visa in the run-up to the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and is trialling the new mobile app version while restrictions on travel to the country are in place and the existing system of applying for an ETA online or via an agent or airline is unavailable.

The ETA app trial is open to holders of passports from Brunei, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the US who meet all ETA eligibility requirements, are exempt from Australia’s current travel restrictions and intend to visit the country for a holiday, to see family and friends or undertake “business visitor activities” such as attending a conference or trade fair.

“Travellers not included in the Australian ETA trial can apply online through ImmiAccount for another visa that might suit their needs,” the Australian government adds.

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