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Interpol urges airlines to create passport database

07 june 2011, 17:17
Interpol urged the world's airlines on Tuesday to establish a passport database to help prevent attacks by terrorists using fake or stolen travel documents, AFP reports.

A database would make it easier to detect stolen or fraudulent passports but airlines are reluctant to share passenger information, the head of the France-based crimefighting agency told an aviation conference in Singapore.

"It would have prevented the first World Trade Center bombing (in 1993)," Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble told a forum when asked if shared passport data could have prevented the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US.

"Since 1993 this problem's been there and the last year, a half a million passengers were able to travel internationally without having their passports checked," Noble said.

The World Trade Center was hit by a truck bomb in 1993 and one of the conspirators was found to have entered the US on a stolen passport.

The 2001 attacks were carried out by militants who hijacked US airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center as well as the Pentagon. Another hijacked plane apparently bound for Washington crashed in Pennsylvania.

"There are many, many, many cases with people travelling internationally that get trained as terrorists using false identity documents, so (a passport database) would definitely prevent terrorist activity," Noble said.

Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, has 188 member countries and facilitates police cooperation against international crime.

"You must have a database that integrates information from travellers around the world," Noble stated.

"It would be so easy to put the numbers from stolen passports in that database and make sure that the other 500 million passengers have their passports screened."

But he warned that there was a reluctance among airlines to share customer information, leaving gaps in the screening system.

"The industry could care about it but it doesn't appear to care about it. It should care about it, it can't rely on the government to keep your planes, your passengers safe, so you should care about this."

The idea received a mixed reception among airline officials attending the forum.

"I don't agree with profiling," an airline official in the audience told Noble, adding that terrorists could simply use other people who are not blacklisted to smuggle illicit materials for them.

But Elyezer Shkedy, president and chief executive officer of El Al Israel Airlines, said he supported Interpol's proposal.

"I personally believe that the process and the directions will lead us to sharing information in order to fight this kind of terrorism," he said.

"You should not share the whole information, you should share parts of the information but it should be obtainable in order to deal with it," Shkedy added.

"It's not a local issue, it's a global issue and in order to fight in the whole world you must check. You have no choice, you must check."

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