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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 December, 2004, 21:18 GMT
Interpol concern over UK borders
Ron Noble
Mr Noble questioned UK border checks
The head of Interpol has told of his "surprise" at shortcomings in the passport controls at UK borders.

Ron Noble, an American, said he was not asked for his passport serial number when he entered the UK.

"It's been proven in every single terrorist incident that a fraudulent passport has been used," Mr Noble told a House of Lords committee.

He said officials should record and check the numbers against Interpol's list of five million stolen passports.

The Home Office says there have been a range of border security measures and its plans for electronic checks will improve things further.

'Unknown terrorist'

As well as the Interpol list, the EU has a database of 10 million lost or stolen passport serial numbers, the EU Home Affairs sub-committee was told.

But in the UK there was no automatic requirement to record passport serial numbers, unless the traveller falls into certain categories, such as students from outside the EU or people applying for work permits.

Names and details can be checked against a register of known or suspected offenders, but further checks are at the discretion of individual immigration officers.

When it comes to sharing information internationally the UK is one of the leaders in the world
Ron Noble, Interpol director general

Mr Noble showed peers the immigration card he filled in when he entered the country on Tuesday.

"I was surprised that the immigration card didn't ask me for my passport number," he said.

Terrorists were known to use fake passports, and in those circumstances, he said, wondering "why wouldn't the UK want to know my passport number?"

The UK is already taking steps to prevent people wanted by the police entering the UK, Mr Noble said, but - until cross border co-operation was improved - it should do more to tackle those using stolen documents.

He told peers: "Assume there is an unknown terrorist in possession of a stolen passport. We need to find an interim solution to make sure those people don't get into the UK."

He said Interpol would allow the UK to download all of its stolen passport numbers as a temporary solution.

Provides a secure global communication system for police forces in 182 member countries
Operates databases of international criminals, stolen travel documents, stolen vehicles, fingerprints, DNA and other information
Offers operational support and analysis in the fight against terrorism, people smuggling, money laundering, paedophilia and other cross-border crime

The committee heard the EU is considering plans to force member states to share data on lost and stolen passports.

It already has a database of stolen passport numbers covering the 15 countries in the Schengen treaty, which removes some of the border controls between member states but does not include the UK.

Mr Noble praised the EU for agreeing to share its stolen passport data with Interpol.

But he added: "It's important for the EU to know whether the stolen passport is being used in the EU or outside the EU.

"That's why an EU system alone will never work."

Tight control

He said Interpol's efforts to gather information across international borders were hampered by the EU and national police services' fears they would "fall into the wrong hands".

Mr Noble agreed that "not all information should be shared with all countries at all times".

But, he added, some organisations misunderstood the nature of Interpol, which he said gave them tight control over the countries their information was given to.

He also praised the UK's record, saying that "when it comes to sharing information internationally the UK is one of the leaders in the world".

Electronic checks

Responding to his concerns about passport numbers, a Home Office spokeswoman pointed to plans for "e-borders", which will work alongside ID cards from 2008.

"This system will efficiently record people travelling into and out of the UK, using airline reservation information and capturing passenger's biometric data from their travel documents," she said.

"The Immigration and Nationality Directorate is committed to working closely with other government agencies, the police and EU partners to combat the threat of terrorism.

"In addition the UK's borders have been made more secure through a range of initiatives including moving controls overseas, the deployment of new detection technology, the introduction of new visa regimes and the deployment of Airline Liaison Officers assisting airlines to check travel documents."

The UK also had a database of about 200,000 stolen passport numbers, which it shares with Interpol, a Home Office spokesman added.

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25 Nov 04 |  West Yorkshire

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