Proper use of biometric screening could improve airport security
In the future, if one plans to go overseas, a passport might not be enough to get through the gates.
The eerie disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight 370 might call for increased security in airports through the use of more biometric screening. After all the scrutiny over the security procedures following the disappearance of 239 passengers on the flight, we may see an increase in fingerprinting and multiple-database searches.
At the heart of all the scrutiny is the confirmation by Interpol that two passports recorded in its stolen and lost travel documents database were used by passengers to board flight 370. The stolen passports raised concerns at the possibility of terroristic threats in the missing flight. One of the stolen passports belonged to an Austrian and the other to an Italian citizen.
According to CNN, Malaysian authorities did not check the stolen documents on an international law enforcement agency database.
After a manifest of all 239 people on the plane was released by the airline, Austria denied that the citizen listed in the manifest was actually on board the flight. The Austrian citizen’s passport was stolen two years ago, said Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss.
Italy’s foreign ministry also confirmed that there were no Italians on the flight and that the Italian’s passport was reported stolen while vacationing in Thailand last August. Various U.S. government agencies have been briefed about the passport incident, and so far, there’s nothing that indicates any foul play on their part.
Officials are cautioning that it is too early to arrive at any conclusions, especially a terrorism connection. However, terrorism has not been completely ruled out by U.S. authorities as the cause of the airliner’s mysterious disappearance.
“Interpol’s database has 39 million records of stolen travel documents,” said CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes. “You wonder who was using it. What were their motives? It’s a great concern when people use false documents to board international aircraft.”
Biometric screening is the process of logging a traveler’s fingerprints, and occasionally facial data, so they can be checked against a database to confirm their identity. Biometric security protocols are already being used in some countries throughout the world.
Stopping a terrorist or identifying someone traveling under a false identity requires the available database to be queried by individual security agents who have access.
Airport security apparently skipped over this process at the Kuala Lumpur Internation Airport where two passengers were able to board the Malaysia Airlines flight using stolen passports. Interpol maintains the database of stolen passports and lost documents and is asking why only a few countries worldwide are making sure that people in possession of stolen passports are not boarding international flights.
Biometric screening would not likely be used on American citizens traveling within the country. While biographic checks are being used, they are prone to human error and issues such as the misspelling of foreign names.
Terrorists and criminals are usually the people who would have gone to the greatest lengths to avoid biographic checks by forging documents to conceal their real identities. Biometric screening is the only way to catch them.
The evidence with these two stolen passports suggests a concern different from terrorism. Thailand is a known hub of the stolen passport industry. The risk here is part of a human-smuggling issue rather than a terroristic threat.
Beefed-up airport security is nothing new. After the 9/11 attacks, airport security underwent stricter procedures to ensure national safety. While the public will likely see this as a concern for privacy, it is an issue that needs to be tackled.
We cannot determine exactly what caused the plane to disappear without hard evidence, but we can decipher what the incident means to traveling internationally in the future.
Senior staff columnist Gemrick Curtom is a public relations junior and may be reached at [email protected]