When screening airport passports, security agents perform a number of activities at the same time. While scanning over the ID on the documentation, they also monitor the crowd for anything out of the ordinary, in addition to ensuring that the line of passengers continues moving smoothly. Agents see a wide range of passengers in respect to age, gender and appearance. Many may not appear exactly as the photo on the passport.
While the possibility exists, most do not expect to encounter someone attempting to board a plane or enter a country using a fake ID. However, in recent years, that possibility continues growing despite increased security measures. In 2013, more than three billion people traveled somewhere by plane. Interpol estimates that approximately one third of these passengers did not have a passport scanned through the Interpol Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database for verification of identification.
The Interpol SLTD
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Interpol established a database in attempts at minimizing the chance that travelers might board planes or enter countries using false passports. Unfortunately, statistics indicate that Great Britain, the United Arab Emirates and the United States are the only countries that regularly verify documentation using the resource. This fact was recently brought to light after it was discovered that two passengers on the missing Malaysian flight gained entrance using stolen identification. Whether these passengers had foul play in mind may never be known.
Facial Recognition Failure
Numerous studies found that people are under the misguided belief that they are experts in the ability to recognize faces. However, extensive research proves otherwise. In 2011, a group of scientists presented Dutch and United Kingdom volunteers with 40 photographs of individuals. In truth, all 40 pictures only depicted two individuals. The participants in the study were asked to look at the photos, choose pictures representing the same person and create a pile for each individual. Amazingly, on average, the volunteers created more than seven different piles.
Another experiment involved providing shoppers with credit cards bearing photographs. When shoppers paid for purchases using the cards, they were not made award of whether the cards bore their likeness or that of someone else. Though the store employees were advised in advance of the impending study, nearly half of the cashiers accepted the fraudulent cards in payment. In lieu of this misconception, the ease of using a fraudulent passport becomes frightening.
Acquiring Stolen Passports
In 2007, reporters from Dateline NBC demonstrated the steps involved in getting a fake passport. In Lima, Peru, for example, stolen passports are so prevalent that brokers sell them on the street only blocks from government offices. Using hidden cameras, reporters documented on film as brokers produced bags holding numerous passports from virtually every country on earth. The cost for acquiring a stolen document ranged anywhere from a few dollars to $100.
Law enforcement authorities around the world have another growing concern, that of falsified passports. These documents are genuine passports created with false identities. As the documents are completely fabricated, checking them against existing databases remains fruitless. Again, while in Lima, NBC reporters located a contact in an attempt at recording the process of acquiring false documentation. The men found an individual who explained that for a fee, he acquires the manufactured passport through criminal contacts employed within local government agencies. NBC acquired one of the documents and successfully crossed the border into Chile without difficulty. Obtaining a created identity may cost close to $2,000. However, for the unscrupulous but often well-connected terrorist, the expense if more than likely a mere inconvenience.
Peru is but one of many countries where black markets exist, along with the possibility of acquiring stolen or falsified identification and passports. Interpol remains concerned that an estimated four out of every 10 travelers have the opportunity to board planes or enter countries illegally. For whatever reason, agencies continue avoiding using available and valuable resources that include the Interpol SLTD. This lackadaisical attitude toward terrorism prevention should alarm everyone who travels. While countries made great strides in preventing potential attacks, the possibility continues because of simple laziness.