LYON, France (AP) — Interpol has given two airlines direct access to its database of stolen passports in a test project intended to make it harder for criminals to misuse suspect documents, the police organization’s leader said Tuesday.
It’s not known whether stolen passports had anything to do with Saturday’s disappearance of a Boeing 777 bound from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board. But Interpol on Tuesday released an image of two men who used valid Iranian passports to get into Malaysia, then stolen European documents to board the flight.
Interpol secretary general Ronald K. Noble said the organization is testing how to give airlines — rather than just border control authorities — the ability to tap into the database directly.
Only a handful of countries actively use the database, including the United States, France, the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland.
Noble said more than 1 billion times last year, travelers boarded planes without their passports being checked against the Lyon-based police body’s database of 40 million stolen or lost travel documents.
Air Arabia and Qatar Airways were chosen to test the idea because they approached Interpol and expressed an interest, said Michael O’Connell, director of Interpol’s operational police support directorate.
The two airlines “have committed themselves to making sure that all passengers boarding their planes will have their passport data screened against Interpol’s database,” Noble said.
He said stolen passports have been a known problem since at least the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
“We know that the terrorist mastermind in that bombing was carrying a stolen Iraqi passport to cross borders,” he said.
It takes less than a second for countries to query the database via Interpol software and an Internet connection, once a passport is scanned by border police.
Ultimately the goal would be to expand the airlines program. “It’s at the embryonic stage,” O’Connell said.
The database contains passport numbers and nationalities, as well as birthdates. It has no biometric data, Noble said.