19 July 2006

US propose tighter passenger checks on inbound flights

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One of the biggest changes to the way international passenger traffic to the United States is handled could be on the way after Homeland Security officials proposed the introduction of an Advance Passenger Information System (APIS).

Homeland security has proposed making airlines transmit passenger manifests and the APIS date for each passenger to immigration officials up to an hour before departure. This is currently done after take-off. The proposals also take in cruise-liners.

APIS data includes passenger information that would be found on the front of a passport, such as full name, gender, and country of passport issuance.

The measure is to give officials more time to check for suspected terrorists, preventing them from boarding an US-bound plane in the first place, and to prevent a repeat of incidents that have seen carriers forced to divert or return to the departure airport if passenger information is incomplete or raises suspicions.

“Our priority is to keep terrorists out of the United States by preventing them from boarding international flights, said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

"Receiving APIS data before a plane takes off is another layer of security that allows us to identify terrorists before they are en route to the United States. This rule will also help eliminate the inconvenience of flight diversions due to security concerns,”

“We appreciate the airline industry’s efforts in working with us to strengthen the security of air travel and fulfill this Congressional mandate.”

It is expected that the change would relieve airlines from having to screen passengers against security watch lists maintained by the United States, and passengers would have to be cleared for boarding by Homeland security before even being allowed to set foot on a plane.

The measures are not to everyone's liking though, with some airline companies and civil right groups already expressing concerns about the proposals and it has prompted MEPs in the Civil Liberties Committee to call for the European Parliament to have observer status in negotiations for the agreement.

Prior to the September 11 attacks on New York, United States Customs received advance passenger information from air and sea carriers on a voluntary basis.

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