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Standardization of Breeder Documents - Part 1 "Setting the scene"

By Stephan D. Hofstetter, Editor CEN prTS 17489-5, Delegated Expert SNV, Managing Partner SECOIA Executive Consultants AG


This topic will be introduced in three parts:

  • Part 1: Setting the scene. What are breeder documents, why are birth certificates especially sensitive and important breeder documents, and why it is necessary to improve the situation after having introduced highly sophisticated travel documents and border management systems.

  • Part 2: the standardization effort. What research led to the standardization effort and who is conducting this work. What has been defined to date with respect to technologies.

  • Part 3: Trustframework and Policy. The standard in development expands on a trust and policy framework. What are the elements and outlook.


PART 1: Setting the scene


Why we need to talk about Breeder Documents, and specifically Birth Certificates

Breeder documents are defined by the European Union as "documents used to support applications for identity, residence and travel documents, such as birth, marriage and death certificates"[1]. As such, the birth certificate becomes the first breeder document of a new individual. It is a fundamental document of identity.

For the average person in the developed world, this is often taken for granted. But it is much more than just a set of data or a piece of paper. Article 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 16 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state that "Everyone has the right to be recognised as a person before the law". Several international human rights instruments, such as Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 24(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, also recognise a right to birth registration.

According to UNHCR and IOM, more than 1 billion people, or one in eight, have no formalised identity. Sustainable Development Goal target 16.9 ("legal identity for all, including birth registration, by 2030") is key to advancing the 2030 Agenda's commitment to leave no one behind.

So, is this discussion "only" about less than 15% of the world's population? To answer this, we need to look at one of the world's largest and most successful identity systems: harmonised passports.


High Secure Passports and ABC-systems

With their microchips and holograms, biometric photos and machine-readable codes, today's passports can seem like an amazing feat of modern technology, especially when you consider that their origins can be traced back to biblical times. Centuries ago, the 'sauf conduit' or 'safe conduct pass' was designed to allow an enemy 'passage in and out of a kingdom for the purpose of his negotiations', explains historian Martin Lloyd in The Passport: ‘The History of Man's Most Traveled Document’. It was little more than a written plea that acted as a kind of gentleman's agreement: that two rulers recognised each other's authority and that crossing a border would not lead to war[2].

And this agreement is one of the challenges: While identity documents of all kinds are the responsibility of national authorities, their acceptance for crossing borders requires mutual recognition. In order to facilitate the movement of people, especially with the growing mobility of civil aviation, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has been mandated to develop a common set of rules for travel documents and supporting technologies and procedures.

ICAO's work on machine-readable travel documents began in 1968 with the establishment of a Panel on Passport Cards by the Council's Air Transport Committee. The Panel's mandate was to develop recommendations for a standardised machine-readable passport book or card to expedite the processing of passengers through passport control. The Panel made a number of recommendations, including the adoption of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) as the machine reading technology of choice due to its maturity, cost effectiveness and reliability. In 1980, the specifications and guidance developed by the Panel were published as the first edition of Doc 9303, entitled "A Passport with Machine Readable Capability", which became the basis for the initial issuance of machine-readable passports by Australia, Canada and the United States.

In 1984, ICAO established what is now known as the Technical Advisory Group on Machine Readable Travel Documents (TAG/MRTD), composed of government officials specialising in the issuance and border control of passports and other travel documents, to update and improve the specifications developed by the Panel.

In 1998, the New Technologies Working Group of the TAG/MRTD began work to identify the most effective biometric identification system and associated means of data storage for use in MRTD applications, particularly in relation to document issuance and immigration considerations. Most of the work had been completed by the time the events of 11 September 2001 prompted States to place greater emphasis on the security of a travel document and the identification of its holder.

The electronic and biometric enhanced passport, often referred to as the 'ePassport', is the culmination of an ongoing process of developing technical specifications for machine-readable travel documents (MRTD). It introduces a new dimension to aviation security by adding to the traditional machine-readable passport, with its machine-readable zone, an additional layer of verification of the information contained in an electronic chip that verifies the information in the machine-readable zone of the passport using a special reader. The development of the ePassport has involved a great deal of research into technology and verification. New biometric enrolment stations and de-duplication routines, the introduction of enhanced border control posts and even Automatic Border Control (ABC) gates have significantly changed the possibilities for border control and identity management, as well as the travel experience for individuals.

Breeder documents, notably birth certificates, represent the basic articulation between an individual and the community where an individual is born and lives. This junction is of fundamental importance since it provides the individuals with ‘documentary citizenship’, namely, with the documented memory that enables him or her to entry (and exit, for that matter) the realm of civil, political, and also social life. With the introduction of electronic passports (e-passports) and the use of security features in the chip, of which biometric templates, the security of this crucial travel document - which was still only based on paper at the end of the last century and remained therefore easily forgeable - has been greatly improved. Nevertheless, if the physical security of the document is better protected per se, some weaknesses in the passport issuance process remain. Indeed, e-passports are delivered based on breeder documents (e.g., birth certificates) that do not have the same protection level and which are much easier to counterfeit.

The processes used by authorities to establish and verify a person's identity are often laxer than the security of the document or credential they issue. Poor quality basic processes weaken confidence in the traveller's identity and ultimately undermine states' own investment in a high-security document, credential or border process. It is well known that e-passports are now so difficult to counterfeit that fraud attempts are now focused on the issuance process.  It is time to address the issue of civil registration.


Civil Registration and Birth Certificates key as breeder documents

In most European countries, and identically in the rest of the world, breeder documents are unsecure documents while they are the basis of the identity for many of these countries. This lack of security has led to an inherent flaw in all the processes of identity creation using breeder documents as proof of identity/origin. Therefore, the weakest link of the chain of ID and travel documents issuance, and in particular of e-passport issuance, now is the entitlement process, in which the evidence of an applicant’s identity is evaluated. Such evidence is often provided in the form of breeder documents, which remain to date mainly paper-based without any form of security in their manufacturing or issuance processes.

Most breeder documents are much easier to forge than e-passports, and by using forged breeder documents (via identity theft or fake ID) people can obtain genuine travel documents. To make the matter worse, there is yet no standard format or standard issuance process for breeder document Europe wide or even within many Member States. As a consequence, an administration officer can barely authenticate a breeder document, if presented as physical document. And digitized civil registries or electronic breeder documents often cannot be accessed or validated in cross-administration scenarios, due to technical or legislative constraints.



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