Senator aims to boost use of stolen-passport database

capitol in snow

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.                                                                                  

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group