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“There are over 70 million stolen identities available online” – We spoke to INTERPOL

Effective border control is critical in the fight against terrorism and organised crime. Mick O’Connell of INTERPOL reveals how the war against international criminals is being fought with data.  

The modern criminal is tech-savvy and has no respect for international borders. With identity theft now epidemic, how do authorities prevent terrorists, smugglers and sex offenders travelling from one country to another?

That’s the task faced by INTERPOL, the world’s largest crime-fighting organisation. It helps police forces around the globe to work together using hi-tech infrastructure. In addition, it fosters collaboration between airports, airlines, law enforcement, customs and immigration agencies.

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“There is always a margin of error,” Mick O’Connell, INTERPOL’s director of operational support and analysis. “Having 190 countries as part of INTERPOL means we know there will be imperfections.

“Nevertheless, in 30 years we have moved to a better place. Also, there are more than 70 million stolen identities available at the moment. That risk could be minimised through established travel routines, but some countries don’t have fully integrated processes. And you have to add to that instances of people crossing borders clandestinely.”

INTERPOL knows that knowledge is power

A key weapon in the fight against international crime is INTERPOL’s stolen and lost travel document database (SLTD). It stores information on everything from stolen, lost or revoked passports to DNA profiles and firearms data.

A total of 174 countries contribute information to the database, which contains around 70 million records. In the first nine months of 2016, the database was searched nearly 1.25 million times. As a result, 115,000 positive results were generated indicating fraudulent documents were being used.

“Primary threats, such as terrorism, or the carriage of illegal goods, are very important,” says O’Connell. “Over the last three years, the foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon has increased a lot.

“We can’t take a simplistic approach, so INTERPOL provides a sensible, effective and secure environment for the passing of sensitive information in a discreet way.

“We’re approaching a time when there will be two billion passenger movements per annum. So we have to develop systems that are optimal so as not to disrupt that traffic.”

I-Checkit technology

INTERPOL is piloting the innovative I-Checkit programme, which could have a dramatic impact on border control processes in airports.

I-Checkit enables the travel, tourism and banking industries to send passport data to INTERPOL for screening against the SLTD database. For example, border control and immigration can check that travel documents are genuine in a matter of seconds.

“[Law enforcement and airlines] must be able to share data with us and get a law enforcement response, so there is a one-to-one communication and a de-risking for airlines,” explains O’Connell. “The system also has value for banking, car rental, hotels, cruise lines and other entities.”

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Be vigilant

O’Connell says that ordinary travellers also need to be aware of the often simple, but potentially important role they play.

“There is a push to remind the travelling public that a passport is owned by the state that issued it. If it is lost, the state will want to find it. If you report it, INTERPOL will see it as a lost identity, so if you find it, do not use it, or your journey will be disrupted. Tell the authorities,” he says.

“The automation of identification processes is eliminating those travellers who are not a risk. Flights will not be delayed if there are the right systems in place. INTERPOL is taking the speed bumps out of international travel.”

Read the full interview with INTERPOL’s Mick O’Connell in the forthcoming edition of Future Airport.

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