Air carriers now must help nation keep track of who's coming, going

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2001

It became tragically obvious after the attacks Sept. 11 that the U.S. had little information about potential terrorists entering this country. The U.S. is legendary for the openness of its society and borders, and policing the nation's myriad official and unofficial entry points is a monumental challenge.

Yet, a mechanism was already in place to provide at least basic information on passengers who were flying into the U.S. from other countries. Unfortunately, the U.S. never insisted all airlines comply with it. Belatedly, that has now changed.

The U.S. Customs Service established a voluntary early alert system in 1988. Called Advance Passenger Information System, it asked carriers to provide biographical information on incoming passengers and crew as their aircraft depart from foreign locations.

While the plane is airborne, the information is electronically communicated to a combined federal law enforcement system that includes databases of the Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, State Department, the FBI's National Crime Information Center and 21 other federal agencies. Thus anyone determined to be a high risk can be subjected to further scrutiny on arrival. ...

A provision in the aviation security law signed Nov. 19 by President Bush now requires all carriers to cooperate. All carriers entering the U.S. must provide name, citizenship, date of birth, sex, passport and visa numbers and countries where those documents were issued for all passengers and crew.

They have 60 days to begin doing so, but the U.S. wants even speedier compliance. ...

After the 60 days, the U.S. landing privileges of airlines that still won't cooperate could be revoked.

As of (Nov. 30), 16 of the 58 airlines -- including Saudi Arabian -- had indicated they would begin to transmit such information. It's about time. The U.S. can't begin to figure out where the terrorist threats lie within its own borders without having a clue as to who's arriving on its many doorsteps every day.

--Chicago Tribune

Dec. 3

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