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23 November 2004

United States, EU Discuss Border, Transport Security

Homeland Security's Hutchinson, EC's Faull brief press on dialogue

Cargo security, travel document security policies, and use of advanced passenger data were among the main items of discussion during the U.S.-European Union Policy Dialogue on Border and Transport Security in Washington November 22.

The United States and the European Union (EU) agreed to exchange information on technologies and best practices "so that we can invest and we can communicate better together," said Asa Hutchinson, under secretary for border and transportation security at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, at a joint press conference with European Commission Director-General Jonathan Faull.

"In our discussions, it was clear to me that the European Union has accelerated their counterterrorism efforts, and we are grateful for that," said Hutchinson.

He expressed delight with the recent signing of a U.S.-EU agreement on the Container Security Initiative, and the provisional EU decision to include not only facial recognition but also finger scans on biometric travel documents.

Both Faull and Hutchinson spoke of the importance of improving security systems in a way that would not place an undue burden on the airlines or passengers.

"We need to move urgently to the new system of Secure Flight," Hutchinson said, referring to a plan that places the responsibility for comparing passenger information with a terrorist watch list on government security personnel rather than airline personnel.

The Secure Flight program also envisions looking at passenger information in advance of a flight rather than 15 minutes after a flight takes off, as is now the case.

Also participating in this second meeting of the joint policy dialogue were representatives from the U.S. departments of Justice and State, European Commission, the EU Presidency and the EU Council Secretariat. The next meeting will take place in Brussels, Belgium, in spring 2005, according to Faull.

A transcript of the press conference follows:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C.
November 22, 2004

TRANSCRIPT OF UNDER SECRETARY ASA HUTCHINSON AND EUROPEAN UNION DIRECTOR-GENERAL JONATHAN FAULL AT PRESS CONFERENCE


UNDER SECRETARY HUTCHINSON: Good morning. I'm Asa Hutchinson, Under Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and I am pleased to be here today and joined by my colleague from the European Union, Jonathan Faull, Director General of Justice and Liberty, formerly Justice and Home Affairs. And this is a report on our policy dialogue on border and transportation security issues.

This is the second meeting that we've had, which has become an important part of our discussions with the EU. We have been joined today by General Faull's colleagues from the European Union and the Dutch presidency. We also have been joined by my colleagues from the Department of State and Department of Justice as well as the Department of Homeland Security.

This dialogue is a very serious policy discussion on how we can enhance security, the exchange of information and the communications and common security enhancements between the European Union and the United States.

First reviewed: Some of the recommendations of the 9/11 report, which is very timely as a result of the legislations being considered, but also President Bush's actions through Executive Orders. And in our discussions, it was clear to me that the European Union has accelerated their counterterrorism efforts, and we are grateful for that. We believe that it's because of the enhanced discussions as well as the common concerns that we have on the continued concerns of terrorism.

Illustrating that, I believe, is the biometric decision that was provisionally made by the European Union that provided not only facial recognition, but also finger scans. We were delighted with the recent signing of the agreement between the United States and the European Union on the Container Security Initiative that will build and enhance our bilateral relationships in that regard.

During the course of the discussions today, we agreed for an exchange of information on technologies and better common practices -- best practices -- on science and technology so that we can invest and we can communicate better together in terms of the new security technologies that will be necessary as we face a common threat.

I was pleased with the progress that had been made on lost and stolen passports, both the entry of information -- I believe it's 1.7 million data points from the European Union being put into the Interpol database from 49 countries. Also, of course, the United States entering data into that system that will give us quicker information for our inspectors at our Ports of Entry.

We talked about visa lookout information, sharing information on terrorists, those that we should look out for as we respond to the 9/11 Commission's report on identifying terrorist travel. And I was grateful for the European Union's statement of support for us to work bilaterally with the member states to increase the exchange of visa lookout information.

So we look forward to the continued dialogue. I'm grateful for the very honest and frank exchange. And I think it illustrates that we face a common threat and we're willing to work on it in a common way.

With that, Jonathan.

MR. FAULL: Thank you, Asa, and good morning, everybody. Yes, it has been an extremely fruitful meeting for myself, and my colleagues from Brussels, and from the Dutch Government in The Hague. This is the second meeting of this policy dialogue. It has proved already an extremely worthwhile exercise. There is no shortage of extremely important issues we find necessary to discuss. And it is accompanied by a whole range now of informal contacts between colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic on matters of mutual concern.

But it's very useful to come together in this plenary format twice a year, which we are now doing, and I'm sure we will continue to do so, and I look forward to the next meeting in Brussels next spring as we review the many activities, legislative and operational, which we are involved in on both sides of the Atlantic.

We have a great number of common challenges. We have a very large measure of agreement between us on the way to meet those challenges. Sometimes we have, because of our different legal and political environments, differences that we have to explain to each other and find a way to work through. All of that is helped by a very frank and open and friendly discussion, which we were able to have again today. Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY HUTCHINSON: Questions?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, in light of the spirit of cooperation that's been engendered between the U.S. and European Union, are you optimistic that this will eventually, I guess, alleviate problems like the one that took place over the weekend where persons who are on lists, are on planes in the air before it's recognized?

UNDER SECRETARY HUTCHINSON: That's an important part of an issue that we have to work through together. These are problems that cannot be solved unilaterally. And the issues involved in that are, first of all, that we had a discussion about changing our advance passenger information that is provided now 15 minutes after an airplane takes off. We obviously want to change that to move it forward so we have more time to check the lists in a timely way and we listened to concerns in regard to that.

Secondly, obviously, we want to fulfill our testing of Secure Flight, and the new system that will allow the government, rather than the airlines, to have the responsibility for comparing the passenger manifest list with the terrorist watch list. And this is a huge burden that's being placed on the airlines. This new program will help alleviate that. So yes, we obviously need to improve our systems and these initiatives will help us to do that.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Do you have any ballpark timeframe on when we might arrive at the point when something like this won't happen again?

UNDER SECRETARY HUTCHINSON: Well, I mean, obviously, you want systems to work perfectly but I don't know that when you have systems that are built upon human information and human responses that you're ever going to have a totally perfect system.

So I think that we have to build a better system, which we're designed to do, that will greatly reduce and minimize these types of incidents happening. But also you have to develop a system that's capable of responding and having a good checks and balance and that has layered defenses. It's not simply relying upon one particular system.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Congress, last year, the deadline on visa waiver countries to acquire biometric passports, they extended that deadline by one year, which I gather means it comes up again next October. I want to ask Mr. Faull, is that a deadline that most European countries think they can reach? And if not, I wanted to ask Mr. Hutchinson, are you thinking about asking Congress for another extension for the two years that you're (inaudible)?

MR. FAULL: Well, we are working very hard to introduce biometric features into European passports, and not only because of this U.S. measure but because we think it's the right thing to do. We want to make our identity documents reliable and make sure that the person presenting one is really the person to whom the passport was issued. And, therefore, two things are happening in parallel. Our member states are very busy already based on already reached understandings of the technical requirements are beginning to produce their passports and we have legislation going through our system to provide the necessary legal framework for that.

Now, we think that the legislation will probably end up requiring the introduction of the biometric -- the first biometric identifier, the facial image, 18 months after adoption of the legislation, which we hope will be at the end of this year. That means that we may not be able to meet precisely the deadline currently enshrined in U.S. legislation. But we are working towards that.

There are obviously a very large number of passports issued to citizens in the member states of the European Union and it's going to take some time to roll out, first of all, the standards, the technology, and then actually go through the process of issuing people with their new passports. But it's only a matter of months, perhaps the 18 months, starting from the end of this year, if all goes, we will be there pretty soon, and some of our countries may get there earlier.

UNDER SECRETARY HUTCHINSON: Well, as you know, the Administration asked Congress for a two-year extension on the biometric deadline. Congress gave a one-year extension, and so our natural response is to work very aggressively with our allies overseas to meet that deadline. Obviously, as Jonathan indicated, it poses its challenges. So we are simply working hard to do all that we can to meet the deadline.

We have worked with our allies to test the reading of the new biometric passports to make sure that our readers, our chips are meeting common standards, and that testing is going well. But, obviously, that has to be completed before, you know, production is implemented. So we will continue to work with Congress, advise them of the status, but we're working aggressively to meet the deadline they have given to us.

QUESTION: Secretary Hutchinson, when you spoke to Europe about the (inaudible) issue, the press coverage there focused on the suggestion that people wanting to come to the United States might have to pre-board as much as an hour before takeoff, in order that the passenger manifest be completed in time. Do you foresee -- I mean, do you see that as a problem? And how do you intend to deal with it? And, Mr. Faull, could you say whether you think European people, as opposed to the European Governments, or how the European people, as well as the European governments, would react to that kind of --

UNDER SECRETARY HUTCHINSON: On my part of the answer, you know, in order to engage in discussions, you need to throw out a straw person here 60 minutes in advance to get comment on. And so, we have had oral discussions in a number of frameworks in order to get the comments of the airlines, the airports, as well, and so we're working through this process. There's nothing been formally presented in terms of a proposed rule.

There is a -- concerns have been expressed about how long in advance, you know, in the current framework. That information can be provided. How long does it take the government to check it against watch lists to make the right decisions? We're working through those issues and we'll make adjustments as needed, not to compromise security, but to make sure we don't place an undue burden on industry.

MR. FAULL: I agree entirely. Nobody wants flights delayed unnecessarily, but everybody wants flights to be absolutely secure and you don't want people on planes who shouldn't be there. We have to find the best way to use all that modern technology offers us and the best possible human judgment because that's what it comes down at the end of the day. Somebody has to use the information provided by all of this technology to make decisions without having people sitting on planes for an hour or having to check in many hours before takeoff because we have to keep the wheels of commerce and tourism and contacts between our continents turning smoothly.

So those are the objectives. They don't have to be mutually inconsistent. We have to try to meet them all. And that is what we're discussing. There will be further discussions. We don't want incidents of the sort reported in the Air France case to happen. I don't have the details here to precisely what did happen, so I don't want to be drawn into commenting on that particular incident. But we do need to improve our systems so that the necessary checks can be made without placing an undue burden on the airlines, or, as you say, more importantly, on their passengers.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Yes, Mr. Hutchinson, in your opening remarks you mentioned Secure Flight, and I'm wondering, given the EU's privacy concerns, is this going to pose any problem for U.S. plans to implement Secure Flight early next year, and how are you going to resolve those differences?

UNDER SECRETARY HUTCHINSON: I do not see any difficulty in proceeding with the testing of Secure Flight. That testing was permitted under the original PNR agreement and we have actually restrained our testing where we're not using European legs of flight for our testing of that data. And then, secondly, we did talk about also a joint review of the PNR agreement that will be upcoming early next spring, and so we're both mutually looking forward to that. We hope, of course, that that will give assurance to the European audience that we're taking the right privacy protections as we utilize that data.

QUESTION: Going back to the issue of the passports containing biometric data, when will the United States start issuing passports containing these biometric data to your U.S. citizens? And when do you expect that all U.S. citizens will be carrying these passports?

UNDER SECRETARY HUTCHINSON: Well, the State Department is in a better position to answer that. That responsibility falls on them, and I think they're moving aggressively, from the report I heard today, that they will be prepared as soon as this testing is completed to start issuing the biometric passports. And I'll let them comment more specifically on that following the meeting.

Yes.

QUESTION: You mentioned an agreement on better information exchange on science and technology. Can you give us some more detail on that? What specifically do you envision and what -- which types of technology in particular you were talking about?

MR. FAULL: Well, there is a great deal of scientific research being done here and in the European Union on security-related issues, and we are providing increasing amounts of funding through European Union programs and there are many national programs, of course, in our members' states on this. You are doing very much the same thing over here and it makes sense for the people on both sides of the Atlantic to talk to each other and to compare notes and to exchange views and to consider the results.

That is happening already to a certain extent informally, but we took advantage of our meeting here today to bring some of the people involved in this together and they will now pursue between themselves contacts to make sure that cooperation takes place properly.

UNDER SECRETARY HUTCHINSON: Two specific items that, you know, I think -- we're investing a substantial amount in MANPADs defense, in the commercial aviation arena. Obviously, there is work being done in Europe in investments. That information should -- would be mutually beneficial.

Secondly, in the area of multithread sensors, where we really have an urgent need. I know there's work being done on both sides of the Atlantic on this. We need to be able to share that type of information and particularly as we make common investments.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Do you have any more details on what happened on that Air France flight, how somebody on the no-fly list with an expired passport and no visa? Was it just a big, giant screw-up by Air France, or do you know anything?

UNDER SECRETARY HUTCHINSON: I could not provide you enormous details. I was, obviously, contacted over the weekend about that. As it becomes an operational issue, the first issue we address is how to handle the flight safely and to deal with the information that we have. Secondly, there will be a review as to how that happened.

But clearly, the 9/11 Commission report admonished us and one of our responsibility is to combine databases to make sure that we're sharing information. As we do that, terrorist watch lists expand in terms of their number. That becomes more challenging. Right now, the burden is on the airline to make the comparison.

Again, we need to change the system so the burden does not fall on them. But because of the more -- the greater amount of information, we hope that this can be minimized but we're going to run into this from time to time and we want the airlines to be more diligent about doing the checks. We'll be more diligent about following up, but also we need to move urgently to the new system of Secure Flight to avoid this in the future.

UNDER SECRETARY HUTCHINSON: One more question.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: In terms of Secure Flight, I guess the eventual idea is that the U.S. Government will match the passengers (inaudible) to the terrorist watch list. How would that, in terms of European travelers, like what happened with Air France, would that really change anything since it happened in France, so how will Secure Flight sort of help with the international aspect when the planes originate overseas, or is that sort of separate?

UNDER SECRETARY HUTCHINSON: Well, it will apply because we're looking at advance passenger information for these flights that originate from overseas coming to the United States. So the new rule would apply to those flights, give us the information in advance, and so it's a little bit of two separate issues. One is a Secure Flight program that we're speaking of, but the other one is the advanced passenger information that would get that kind of data in advance so we could do the check in advance.

Thank you very much.

MR. FAULL: Thanks.

UNDER SECRETARY HUTCHINSON: Do you have anything else, Jonathan? I didn't mean to cut you off.

MR. FAULL: No.

UNDER SECRETARY HUTCHINSON: Good.

(end transcript)