The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is to begin using a database of stolen passports maintained by the international police organization, Interpol, to help boost border security. The plan was the focus of a congressional hearing Wednesday, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the U.S. government has been concerned about the possibility of terrorists using fraudulent passports to enter the country illegally.
Stolen passports, and blank ones that can be filled in with false information, can often be difficult to detect by immigration officers.
The Department of Homeland Security is turning to Interpol for help in cracking down on those who seek to enter the United States with false or stolen passports.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from the U.S. border state of California, welcomed the move at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing.
"The Department of Homeland Security and State Department must work with Interpol to ensure that the frontline inspectors, those at airports and consular offices, have real-time access to lost and stolen passport data bases," she said. "The inspectors must be trained to use these data bases to ensure that no one carrying a stolen passport is allowed into this country."
Under questioning by Feinstein, Interpol's secretary-general, Ron Noble, described the kind of information that is available on the database:
NOBLE: "The stolen or lost passport number, the issuing country, whether the passport was stolen blank or lost, and the date of theft or loss. No privacy information."
FEINSTEIN: "How many passports are registered in the database?"
NOBLE: "We have over 6.7 million passports registered, and 14 million total stolen travel documents."
Noble says 123 countries now contribute information to the database.
The United States hopes to begin using the database by the end of the year. Paul Morris is an official with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
"We are currently designing the system with Interpol," he explained. "We intend to test the system in the early fall of this year, and we will have a pilot test at a major U.S. international airport in place shortly thereafter. Immediately after that brief pilot test, we intend to have a rapid deployment to the balance of our border control system."
Lawmakers are also considering legislation to crack down on passport fraud. Senator Feinstein has introduced a bill that would increase penalties for trafficking in stolen or fake passports.