U.S. and European authorities, looking for more tools to detect terrorist plots, want to expand the screening of international airline passengers. They plan to do this by digging deep into a vast repository of airline itineraries, personal information and payment data, The New York Times reported in its Tuesday editions.
A proposal by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff would allow the United States government not only to look for known terrorists on watch lists, but also to search broadly through the passenger itinerary data to identify people who may be linked to terrorists, he said in a recent interview.
The paper reported that European leaders are considering seeking access to this same database, which contains not only names and addresses of travelers, but often their credit card information, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers and related hotel or car reservations.
“It forms part of an arsenal of tools which should be at least at the disposal of law enforcement authorities,” Friso Roscam Abbing, a spokesman for Franco Frattini, vice president of the European Commission and the European commissioner responsible for justice and security, said Monday.
The paper added that the U.S. already has rules in place, and European states will have rules by this fall, allowing them to obtain basic passenger information commonly found in a passport, like name, nationality and date of birth, but U.S. officials are pressing to get this information from a database called the Advance Passenger Information System, transmitted to them even before a plane takes off for the U.S.
But a second, more comprehensive database known as the Passenger Name Record is created by global travel reservation services like Sabre, Galileo and Amadeus, companies that handle reservations for most airlines as well as for Internet sites like Travelocity. Each time someone makes a reservation, a file is created, including the name of the person who reserved the flight and any others traveling in the party. The electronic file often also contains details on rental cars or hotels, credit card information relating to travel, contact information for the passenger and next of kin, and at times even personal preferences, like a request for a king-size bed in a hotel, the Times reports.
European authorities currently have no system in place to routinely gain access to this Passenger Name Record data. Frattini, his spokesman said, intends to propose that governments across Europe establish policies that allow them to tap into this data so they can quickly check the background of individuals boarding flights to Europe.