News / Asia

Mysterious Travelers on Malaysia Flight Raise Questions on Passport Security

Italian Luigi Maraldi, left, whose stolen passport was used by a passenger boarding a missing Malaysian airliner, shows his passport as he reports himself to Thai police at Phuket police station in Phuket province, southern Thailand, March 9, 2014.
Italian Luigi Maraldi, left, whose stolen passport was used by a passenger boarding a missing Malaysian airliner, shows his passport as he reports himself to Thai police at Phuket police station in Phuket province, southern Thailand, March 9, 2014.
Carla Babb
Two of the passengers sitting next to each other on the Malaysia Airlines flight that mysteriously disappeared Saturday were traveling with stolen passports. That chilling fact has raised questions about the security of international travel, and why countries might fail to use security tools that are availble through international agencies.

Imagine Luigi Maraldi's surprise when officials reported he was on the Malaysia Airlines flight that vanished Saturday with 239 people on board. The Italian desperately tried to explain to reporters in heavily accented English that he had no clue his stolen passport could get a passenger on board an international flight.

"I think my passport maybe nobody can use again because when I come back to Italy I talked with police, Italian police, for look my lost passport and so nobody can use," he said.

So if the stolen passport was reported to international authorities, how could it have gotten through security?

"If there's no check against the Database of Stolen Passports, you can get on a flight," said Chris Bronk, a passport technology expert at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy in Houston, Texas.

And if you think Malaysia was unique in not checking Interpol's database for stolen passports before letting passengers board flight MH307, you would be mistaken.

"Just about everyone else in the world isn't using this database, and that has to change," Bronk said.

Bronk says the United States, Britain and the United Arab Emirates are the only three countries determined to use the database to check passports on all international flights. And only 38 countries use e-chip technology to help verify and track passports as part of a visa waiver program.

"So we've put a lot of technology in passports over the last 10 to 15 years now, and they are harder and harder than ever to forge, but if you don't have the digital backend running, it's just a document," he said.

So what could be stopping countries from using these tools of the 21st century?

Bronk says the infrastructure needed to integrate Interpol's database is time consuming and expensive. He encouraged the State Department and other concerned parties to consider aiding others with this integration, because the process of identifying passengers like the two who got on Flight MH307 is significantly harder without accurate passport data.

"Now they are going to have to go back through and figure out if any other information about them was captured in the process of buying the ticket, getting on the plane -- so that goes through everything from 'How was the ticket bought? Was it bought with cash? Was it bought with a credit card?' All the way up to, 'Was there a photo captured? Was the person cleared by security at the airport?' It really depends on what evidence exists," said Bronk.

It's unclear how often people travel internationally with stolen documents, but with nearly 40 million stolen passports out there, Bronk says it's safe to assume it happens fairly regularly.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Dan micky from: Ondo Nigeria
March 14, 2014 12:43 AM
I pray GOD will help us discorver the missing flight

by: Tunde Ladimeji from: Verona,Italy
March 11, 2014 12:12 AM
The issue of stolen passports is not new.It is called photo change(PC) by experts.People sell their passports at very high cost to nationals of other countries who could not secure visas on their own countries' passports.

by: Douglas from: Spain
March 10, 2014 9:06 PM
Look I strongly believe that missing plain is not on the sea.there should check desert around that zone or there have dirrected that plain to other direction
In Response

by: reans from: hongkong
March 11, 2014 4:57 AM
Well...I thought they were kidnapped right now!

by: Jeab from: Rayong.Thailand
March 10, 2014 8:47 PM
If the so called saleslady in Pattaya..says "Ali' booked for two people and she goes by saying she only the Iran guy by "Ali"...The same ali has been doing business with her for sometime now..coming to thailand..does the "ali" thing only gives "ali" as personal details when buying tickets from her..something fishy here...ask the lady she knows something..i am even ali told the lady the guys are using stolen passport...just a thought"

by: Cantina from: USA
March 10, 2014 8:39 PM
Surprised Luigi held up his passport in a way that a picture of it would include all his info including his passport number.

by: seaul8ter from: Texas
March 10, 2014 8:30 PM
Instead of spending our tax dollars building a customs facility in Abu Dhabi Congress could spend a little to insure our safety when we travel abroad.

by: Daniel
March 10, 2014 8:10 PM
This cowardly act of terrorism begins to look more and more like an Iranian IRGC operation...

if it turns out to be the Iranians - Obama must give the Israelis the "green light" - HE MUST..!!!
In Response

by: Dickinson from: USA
March 11, 2014 6:08 AM
Green light on what!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More