LYON, France (AP) — Interpol is allowing two airlines to check passenger passports against its vast database of lost and stolen travel documents — in a test project aimed to let private sector companies help authorities crack down on criminals who travel with fake documents, the police organization's leader said Tuesday.
It's not known whether stolen passports had to do with Saturday's disappearance of a Boeing 777 bound from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board. But Interpol on Tuesday released an image of two Iranians who used valid Iranian passports to get to Malaysia, then boarded the flight with stolen European passports.
Up to now, only national authorities such as border police have been allowed to verify whether passengers' passports turn up in the database of some 40 million stolen or lost passports in the computer systems of the Lyon, France-based international police agency — not airlines or other private sector companies.
"I have announced today that Qatar Airways and Air Arabia are two airlines that have committed themselves to making sure that all passengers boarding their planes will have their passport data screened against Interpol's database," Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble told reporters at its headquarters.
In essence, the two airlines will be able to query the database but not gain direct access to it, in a program called I-Checkit for private sector companies — which could one day include financial institutions or hotels too, officials said.
While the database has been available to authorities for more than a decade, only a handful of countries actively use it — primarily the United States, Britain and the United Arab Emirates. Noble said that more than 1 billion times last year, travelers boarded planes without their passports being checked against the database.