Accuracy Wary India Shies Away from Interpol Travel Database
By Devirupa Mitra - NEW DELHI
Published: 16th Mar 2014 08:18:29 AM
In the initial days of the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines MH370, much effort and resources were wasted on verifying the antecedents of two passengers travelling on stolen Austrian and Italian passports—who boarded the plane undetected through immigration.
Though two passports had been reported stolen and listed in the Interpol’s Stolen and Travel Documents (SLTD) database, the Malaysians did not access it. Strangely, India has not agreed to the conditions to access the massive Interpol database. “We are not connected to the interpol’s SLTD database,” confirmed an Indian government official.
India has been part of the Interpol’s effort to devise standard operating procedures for countries to access the real-time database, but has never themselves agreed to be part of the international network because authorities worry the information from national database would not be accurate.
“Basically, the issue that was raised was what happens if the information that we provide and integrated with SLTD proves to be wrong. Who bears the responsibility?” said the official, who was aware of the discussions related to accessing the SLTD within the Indian government.
Interpol began the SLTD database in 2002, which now has 40 million entries from over 160 countries. Last year, the total number of searches done was over 800 million, which resulted in 60,000 ‘hits’—that is detected that a passport or other travel document could be a fake one.
In 2006, the first meeting of the advisory committee of 13 countries, including India, was held to devise standard operational policy and procedures (SOPP) for use of SLTD in 2006-7, which was accepted in 2007. As per SOPP, the participating country had to be responsible for the accuracy of the data linked to the database and also update the information on a real-time basis, as soon as their own national databases are updated.
This has been one of the hurdles for Indian officialdom to integrate with SLTD, as they accept that even the national database could be riddled with errors, perhaps due to mistakes at time of entry of data.
India’s national database of stolen passports has about 40,000 to 50,000 entries. “There is also not enough segregation done within the database. It has not been weeded out for years,” said an official. This database requires to be reorganised as it had to be integrated with the SLTD database, which has its own categorisation. Even if one number or alphabet in the entry for the travel document is inaccurate, it could create immense problems for the passenger whose travel will be red-flagged across airports all over the world.
Resources of both the country of the port of entry and the country of origin would then be diverted to find out if the ‘hit’ was right. “As per the procedure, the response of the ‘hit’ from the country of origin has to be made within one hour. We don’t have the processes to do that so fast,” said an official. The whole procedure of a passenger being taken out from a routine immigration procedure and taken into custody and interrogated by a foreign country over suspicion of travelling on a fake passport will of course be a traumatic experience.
“An innocent passenger in such a case has the right to apply for claim from the Indian government. So, most of the discussions around the SLTD revolved around who would take the responsibility for the accuracy,” said an official. Sources said even if India was linked to the SLTD, it will not increase the time taken for travellers to pass through an immigration check point. “The search is based on number indexing, it will not go through the entire database but will be narrowly focus on certain categories, starting with nationality,” he said. With India implementing a high-tech Immigration, Visa and Foreigner’s Registration & Tracking system, there had been talk about integrating border check points with the database.
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