You might only think to pull out your passport when planning an international trip, but passports can also be everyday identification documents. And many organizations offer passport verification as an option during the onboarding process.
The process is often similar to other types of verification, as are the general pros and cons. But many passports also often have near-field communication (NFC) chips, which you can use for more secure e-passport verifications.
What is passport verification?
Passport verification is an identity verification (IDV) process that uses a person’s passport to confirm their identity, age, or citizenship. In-person passport verification often happens at border crossings and hotels, but organizations can also use digital passport verification to verify people online.
At Persona, we distinguish government ID verifications, including passport and driver’s license verification, from other types of document verification because we use distinct checks to verify these documents.
How does online passport verification work?
The online passport verification process is similar to other types of government ID verification.
- Collect a picture of the passport: First, the individual takes and uploads a picture of the data page in their passport. You can also require pictures of the front and back when appropriate, such as with a passport card. Pre-processing can analyze the picture to make sure it’s acceptable. For example, it may check to ensure there isn’t glare or a blur that makes extracting information from the image difficult or any clear signs of tampering.
- (Optional) selfie verification: Although it’s not always required, a selfie check with liveness detection can help detect and prevent fraud. The check asks the person to take and submit a photo, series of photos, or short video and compares the images to the passport’s headshot.
- Extract information from the image: Optical character recognition (OCR), pattern recognition, or other methods are used to extract data from the image. With a passport, this might include the individual’s name, date of birth, date of issuance, gender, address, expiration date, nationality, and passport number. Much of the identifying information can be found in the passport’s machine-readable zone (MRZ).
- Compare extracted data to info from other sources: The extracted information is compared with the person’s information from their application or other documents. A mismatch could be a sign of fraud, typo, or an error.
- Validate the passport: Various checks review security features, such as fonts, holograms, and images to confirm that the passport is legitimate. They can also offer assurance someone didn’t alter the image before uploading it.
With an automated identity verification process, the extraction, comparison, and validation can often be completed in seconds, although a red flag may prompt a manual review.
Passports with near-field communication (NFC) chips, also called e-passports, can use the NFC chip to quickly send encrypted information to NFC-enabled devices, such as many modern smartphones.
E-passport verification makes the process more secure because forging an NFC chip is more difficult than forging a passport. The verification process can also be much faster and more scalable than manually reviewing passports, and implementation could be as easy as flipping a switch if you already use mobile devices for IDV.
The technology is also widespread. In the U.S., passports have been required to have an NFC chip since 2006 — and passports expire after 10 years, which means all valid passports have NFC chips. Most modern phones also have NFC capabilities, although older and budget models might not have this feature.
The e-passport verification process is similar to the process described above. However, if the system detects that someone is using an NFC-enabled device, they’ll be prompted to use the e-passport verification.
After taking and submitting a photo of their passport, the individual will hold their passport’s NFC chip close to their mobile device to establish a connection. The verification system can then download relevant identity and document elements using the secure connection and use it to help verify the passport’s authenticity and person’s identity.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of passport verification for businesses?
Many industries perform online identity verification, including dating apps, e-learning platforms, and marketplaces. In some industries, such as financial services, having robust identification processes in place may be a regulatory and business requirement.
There are several benefits to offering passport passport verification as an option:
- It can be helpful when your customers might not have other forms of government ID, such as a driver’s license.
- It may be expected within certain industries, such as travel and hospitality.
- The e-passport process can be faster and more secure than alternatives, which may lead to a better customer experience and less drop-off.
However, passports aren’t nearly as common as other types of identification — there were only about 152 million valid U.S. passports in 2022, less than half the population. In contrast, around 233 million Americans held valid driver’s licenses in 2021. People also rarely carry their passports and won’t be prepared to use them to verify their identity if they’re signing up for a new service when they’re not at home.
Additionally, as you already know from spy thrillers, passports can be forged. NFC verifications can help detect passport fraud and deter bad actors, but there’s always a risk. Passport holders also might not have an NFC-enabled device, or be unsure where to hold their device and passport to establish the connection.
Persona helps organizations take advantage of the benefits of online IDV with customizable and automated processes. Create dynamic paths that prompt people who have NFC-enabled devices to use e-passport verification (with on-screen instructions), and offer alternatives to those who don’t. And use step-up verifications to protect yourself from bad actors without impacting legitimate customers’ experiences.
Start for free or get a demo to find out more.