Congress

Senator aims to boost use of stolen-passport database

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In the wake of the baffling disappearance of a Malaysian airliner over Southeast Asia on March 8, a senior Democratic senator plans to introduce legislation barring countries from the U.S. visa waiver program if they don't interface with Interpol's stolen-passport database.

Days after the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 near Indonesia, Interpol's chief said the passports used by two men to board the aircraft were registered in his organization's international law enforcement organization's stolen passport database. He also criticized some countries for ignoring the Interpol Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) resource and creating a security gap for air travel.

On March 9 Interpol said its National Central Bureau in Tehran had confirmed the identity of two Iranian nationals who had initially used authentic passports to travel to Kuala Lumpur, then switched to stolen Austrian and Italian passports to board flight MH 370 bound for Beijing, China.

On March 11, Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said the two men’s identities were confirmed by Iranian authorities as 29-year-old Mohammed Reza Delavar and 18-year-old Pouria Nourmohammadi. To board flight MH 370, the two men used Austrian and Italian passports that were recorded in the SLTD. Authorities have said the men posed no terror threat and suspicions have shifted to the aircraft's crew.

At a March 16 news conference in New York, Sen. Charles Schumer, (D-N.Y.) said he plans to introduce a bill aimed at closing a "gaping loophole" in passport security by blocking countries that don't check the SLTD stolen passport database from the U.S. visa waiver program. That program allows foreign residents to enter the U.S. without a visa for business and tourism for up to 90 days. Thirty seven countries participate in the program.

Schumer said his bill would give countries five years to create IT systems to screen passengers on international flights before they are blocked from the waiver program.

Schumer's vow follows Noble's criticism of slack use of its database by Interpol's 190 member countries. Noble said in a statement following the flight's disappearance that fewer than 20 of Interpol's 190 member countries systematically checked passports of international travelers against the agency's databases in 2013.

The United States is not one of the offenders, Noble said. The U.S. searched the SLTD database more than 238 million times in 2013, while the United Kingdom used it more than 140 million times.

Since its creation in 2002, Interpol said. the SLTD database has grown from a few thousand passports and searches to more than 40 million entries and more than 800 million searches per year, resulting in more than 60,000 hits.

“As we work to identify any criminal network which may have facilitated the theft of the passports used by these individuals to travel internationally, it remains of serious concern to INTERPOL that approximately four out of every 10 international passengers are not being screened against our SLTD database, and this should be a worry for us all,” said Noble.                                                                                  

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