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RealTime IT News

Digital Passports a Draw in the Middle East

Identity rights management (IRM) software vendor Epok said the Kingdom of Jordan will incorporate its ID management platform to process digital passports, or smart cards, officials announced Wednesday.

Jordan is the second country to adopt smart card technology from Dubai-based Datel. Last month, the Dubai Naturalization and Residency Department (DNRD) selected Datel's E-Gate smart card as an alternative to manually processing incoming and outgoing passengers at its international airport.

Both countries will be using Epok's Trusted Data Exchange 4.0 (TDX 4.0) platform to manage the information interface between the two governments, allowing Jordan and Dubai to exchange information on passengers crossing each other's borders without giving up control over the information found in their respective databases.

"We immediately recognized the enhancements E-Gate could add to our border security efforts," said Hanna Najjar, Jordan's Civil Aviation Authority director general, in a statement. "However, we also have an obligation to scrutinize every aspect of such a system. After evaluating the data control capabilities of Epok's TDX and interviewing the Epok team, we are highly confident that the system will give us unprecedented control of the information we intend to share."

Ayman Hariri, Epok president and CEO, said this is the first example of international electronic border security in the world and expects other governments to adopt the technology once it's proven to work.

"Countries are just not into sharing information with each other easily, and to have an automated system to that is a really big deal," he said. "We think in today's world, where security is a major issue, securing travel is one of the top priorities in pretty much every country.

"King Addullah II [of Jordan] has been adamant about using technology for the betterment of a lot of things in the country," Hariri continued. "This is something he's very much a supporter of, certainly to create a more secure environment for travel."

While he wouldn't mention specifics, Hariri said the company is in negotiations with several countries around the world -- mainly in Europe, Asia and the Middle East -- and is confident he will be making similar announcements in the next six to 12 months.

The Bethesda, Md., company adheres to the open standards and protocols in ID management -- such as Passport or the Liberty Alliance -- but isn't particularly married to any one because of its focus on the unification of information within one organization.

Epok's ID management platform is based more on standards that focus on the interaction between different companies: OASIS' Extensible Resource Identifier (XRI), a specification co-authored by Epok; XRI Data Interchange (XDI); and Extensible Name Service (XNS). Taken together, the ID management platform extends on the security of technology like SSL to ensure that necessary data goes to the right individual or agency.

The end goal for Epok, and companies like it, is the eventual replacement of paper passports as an international identification scheme or different smart cards for different countries. While the smart card use is opt-in right now, Hariri said there's the possibility down the road that a single digital passport will become mandatory in the future. And that's a good thing for customs agents.

"It's a very empowering concept for immigration agencies around the world," Hariri said. "You're not relying so heavily on an analog way of doing things. There are tons of things that have to go through the mind of a person there who's looking through the stamps on your passport and trying to decipher them."