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25 June 2004

Nations Strive to Prevent Passport Fraud, State's Moss Says

U.S. fosters international efforts to share data on lost, stolen passports

A senior State Department consular official June 23 outlined international efforts to prevent the use of lost and stolen passports by terrorists and criminals.

"The first objective of the United States and governments throughout the world is to ensure that passports are issued only to persons who are legitimately entitled to them," Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Passport Services Frank Moss said during a hearing before the House Committee on International Relations.

Moss noted an important objective in improving security is strengthening the capability to certify travelers' identities at ports of entry (POE).

"The international community has made great strides towards introducing biometrics that will be used in a "one-to-one verification" of the passport bearer to help meet this goal," Moss said.

According to Moss, biometrics such as digital, inkless finger-scans and digital photographs enable officials to determine whether a traveler applying for entry is the same person who was issued the passport or visa.

Moss said that the United States will begin to issue biometric passports by February 2005.

"Other governments that are the source of large numbers of visitors to the United States are working on a similar schedule," Moss said. "The European Union plans to begin introducing biometric passports by the end of 2005. Japan should complete its transition to embedded biometrics in early 2006. Many other governments should meet this objective around the same time."

The new passports will be used as part of a multination test to determine whether the systems developed by various governments are compatible and can be processed smoothly by border officials at international ports of entry.

Moss noted another important step in this process is sharing data electronically on lost and stolen passports. "This has been a long-term goal of the Department of State and a key element in our efforts to frustrate the international travel of terrorists, criminals and alien smugglers," the passport official said.

The deputy assistant secretary discussed increased efforts to cooperate with the International Police and Criminal Organization (INTERPOL), which have led to the sharing of information about 300,000 missing and stolen U.S. passports.

He also noted new initiatives to enhance the effectiveness of the INTERPOL database "so that once a passport's machine readable zone is swiped ... data on lost and stolen passports, regardless of nation of issuance, can be made immediately available to immigration and custom officials of member states worldwide."

Moss continued, "This should help ensure that persons traveling on documents that may be lost or stolen are identified at primary inspection."

The U.S. effort to share data on lost and stolen passports will encourage other governments to follow suit, he predicted. "We believe that the U.S. decision to share its data will help jumpstart a broad-based international effort. To help make that happen, we are also encouraging the sharing of such data through bilateral approaches to other governments and in international forums such as the G8 and the ICAO," Moss said.

Following is the text of Moss' remarks as prepared for delivery:

(begin text)

International Relations Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
Hearing on
Stolen Passports: A Terrorist's First Class Ticket
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Statement of
Frank E. Moss
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Passport Services
Bureau of Consular Affairs, Department of State

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I am Frank Moss, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services at the Department of State, and it is a privilege to appear before you this morning regarding the efforts of the Department of State to prevent the use of lost or stolen passports by terrorists, criminals, and others who wish to do us harm.

The State Department, and our partners in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, are taking a number of common steps to help prevent the misuse of passports. The first objective of the United States and governments throughout the world is to ensure that passports are issued only to persons who are legitimately entitled to them. This is particularly important since physical security improvements to passports-such as the use of photodigitized images of bearer-make it increasingly difficult to defeat the internal security features of a passport.

In the United States, we have a sophisticated passport application and adjudication process to help ensure that the person to whom we issue a passport is both a U.S. citizen and the person who the applicant claims to be.

We are also actively exploring new initiatives in this area. We have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Social Security Administration so that the Department of State can use that agency's data as another element in our effort to identify fraudulent applicants. We are also examining the role of commercial databases to identify cases of identity theft or other applications that require additional scrutiny.

Another key element in improving the security of the international passport process is to strengthen the process used at ports-of-entry (POE) to ensure that the person traveling on a passport is the person to whom the passport was legitimately issued by his or her national government. The international community, based on leadership by the United States and strong legislation enacted by the Congress, has made great strides towards introducing biometrics that will be used in a "one-to-one verification" of the passport bearer to help meet this goal. Consistent with specifications established through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United States and many other governments, particularly those that are the source of large numbers of temporary visitors to the United States, have launched comprehensive efforts to introduce biometrics into passports.

The ICAO specifications, which were revised and received their final approval last month at a meeting in Montreal, call for a "globally interoperable" biometric system based on the following:

-- The baseline biometric will be facial recognition. Nations have the option of adding to that fingerprints and/or iris scans, but these biometrics may be for national government use and thus not "globally interoperable;"

-- The data will be written to an integrated circuit with a minimum storage capacity of 32 kb;

-- The data will include the full facial image of the authorized bearer of the passport as well as other biographic data found on the data page of the passport;

-- Data transmission standards will be consistent with protocols approved by the International Standards Organization; and,

-- Digital signature technology will be used to secure data written to the integrated circuit.

As a point of reference, here is the status of U.S. plans to introduce biometrics into U.S. passports. Working in conjunction with our partners at the Government Printing Office, we currently have a Request for Proposal out to the industry. We expect to award a contract for the purchase of integrated circuits and the associated antenna array later this summer. We expect to produce our first operational passports this December at the Special Issuance Facility here in Washington. We will use government travelers as our test population in order to minimize problems for the general public should there be any production problems. We plan to begin producing tourist passports in February 2005 at our passport agency in Los Angeles. These books will then be used as part of a multi-nation interoperability test that will be undertaken by our colleagues from the Department of Homeland Security and their counterparts from other governments such as Australia and New Zealand that will by then also produce passports with embedded biometrics.

Our current plan is to complete the migration to passports with embedded biometrics for all U.S. domestic passport production by the end of 2005.

Other governments that are the source of large numbers of visitors to the U.S. are working on a similar schedule. The European Union plans to begin introducing biometric passports by the end of 2005. Japan should complete its transition to embedded biometrics in early 2006. Many other governments should meet this objective around the same time.

Having a more secure passport, a strengthened adjudication system and embedded biometrics will help prevent the misuse of passports. Another important step in this process is sharing data electronically on lost and stolen passports. This has been a long-term goal of the Department of State and a key element in our efforts to frustrate the international travel of terrorists, criminals and alien smugglers. We developed and deployed our Consular Lost and Stolen Passports (CLASP) database in 2002.

This initiative provides lost and stolen US passport data to all POEs within seconds of receiving the information. We have now expanded this critical program to the international level with the transfer in early May through our colleagues at the US National Central Bureau of limited data on over 300,000 lost or stolen U.S. passports to Interpol.

I know that there are questions about exactly what we have provided INTERPOL and how that data will be used. First, in terms of what has gone to INTERPOL it is only the passport number of the over 300,000 U.S. passports that have been reported as lost or stolen since April 2002 when we established our centralized database for this information. In addition, we have provided INTERPOL data to show that the lost document is a passport issued by the U.S. government. Second, this system as it currently operates, requires that a customs or immigration inspector become concerned about a traveler, then check with the U.S INTERPOL National Bureau and verify whether the passport has been reported as lost or stolen. Should that be the case, there would then be a concerted effort involving INTERPOL and the Departments of Justice and State to help determine whether the user of the passport is its authorized bearer.

There are at least two ways that a legitimate passport number could be found in the INTERPOL database. The first is nothing more than a data-entry error. No matter how hard we attempt to check our data before we turn it over to INTERPOL, it is almost inevitable that we will encounter an occasional data entry error. The second issue that we can foresee is that some people may report a passport as "lost or stolen," locate the passport, and then try to travel on that passport. The State Department has recently issued new regulations to make it clear that once a passport is reported as being lost or stolen it is no longer a valid travel document, but we are concerned that some people will still attempt to travel on such a passport. We have established in cooperation with the NCB and consular personnel in the Department of State standard procedures that we will apply to help resolve quickly and accurately whether someone seeking to use a U.S. passport for travel is in fact the authorized bearer of that document.

Our delivery of data on over 300,000 lost or stolen U.S. passports is an important step, but it is not the end of this process. We will update the data on a daily basis. More importantly, we have initiatives underway with INTERPOL that we hope will strengthen further the effectiveness of the INTERPOL database.

A prime objective is to change the system so that it becomes a "business to business" process so that once a passport's machine readable zone is swiped, that is the two lines of data found at the bottom of the data page of a passport, data on lost and stolen passports, regardless of nation of issuance, can be made immediately available to immigration and custom officials of member states worldwide. This should help ensure that persons traveling on documents that may be lost or stolen are identified at primary inspection. Ann Barrett the Managing Director of Passport Services has recently traveled to INTERPOL headquarters to launch this effort. We know that it will take time for INTERPOL's systems to evolve to the point that data exchange is a totally electronic and near-real time process, but that remains our objective and that is shared by INTERPOL's senior management.

Another important effort that we have underway is to encourage other governments to join us in sharing data on lost or stolen passports with INTERPOL.

We believe that the U.S. decision to share its data will help jumpstart a broad-based international effort. To help make that happen, we are also encouraging the sharing of such data through bilateral approaches to other governments and in international forums such as the G-8 and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The U.S. has also taken steps to obtain comprehensive information from other countries on lost and stolen passports in the interim. As part of the Visa Waiver Program Country Review process, we have requested complete information on all lost and stolen blank passports from all VWP countries under review for the last 10 years. This information will be checked against information currently in the lookout system and added if necessary. We are also going to continue to closely monitor the lost and stolen blank passport situation to ensure complete and timely reporting by these countries.

The Department of State is also looking at other avenues beyond INTERPOL to facilitate the exchange of limited passport data in a real-time environment. Both of these initiatives would involve automated checks from ports of entry back to the country of passport issuance. One bilateral effort is underway with Australia and there is also early work underway on a multilateral initiative that includes ICAO, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and other potential groups called Enhanced International Travel Security or EITS. Both of these initiatives would take our efforts to ensure that passports borne by international travelers are legitimate documents to a new level where checks would be automatic and in real-time. Much work is needed to bring these initiatives to closure, but they offer alternative means to reaching our goal of preventing travel by international terrorists, criminals or other persons of concern on lost of stolen passports.

A final initiative that we have underway is strictly a U.S. initiative. It involves making available to Customs and Border Protection Officers at POEs an electronic image of all passport applications received since 1994 to assist in resolving questions about the bona fides of persons claiming to be American citizens. The United States is encouraging the development and promotion of the initiatives mentioned in a manner that is informed by privacy policy guidance on maximizing individual privacy protections and information security.

The State Department appreciates the encouragement that we have received from this Committee and others as we have pursued our strategy to improve the security of the U.S. passport and those issued by other governments. We are especially appreciative of your support for our efforts to share internationally data on lost or stolen U.S. passports. I would be pleased to answer your questions about our overall strategy to help make U.S. and foreign borders more secure through improvements to the entire passport process. Thank you.

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