Passports to be checked on the fly

A new passport system is in the making that will validate passport data in real-time and ease the passage of international travellers through customs checks.

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) is planning to develop a Passport Data Validation Service as part of New Zealand's obligations under an APEC deal between the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.

The system is part of the Regional Movement Alert System (RMAS) planned by the three, which allows direct access to passport data held by the agency that issues the passport. The passport can then be validated in real-time, speeding the processing of travellers through customs and immigration checkpoints.

"The technical infrastructure consists of communications links (using WebSphere MQ) between document issuing authorities, border agencies and a centralised messaging system (Broker)" documents released by the DIA said. "The broker is essentially a switchboard for routing queries and answers to and from border systems and passport databases of participating economies."

According to an APEC fact sheet, the objective of RMAS is to "strengthen the collective capacity of participating APEC economies to detect lost, stolen and otherwise invalid travel documents and to prevent them from being used illegally".

Australia and the US began operating a pilot version of RMAS in September 2005. New Zealand joined the pilot in March 2006.

That pilot "positively demonstrated that economies can establish connections to access each others' lost, stolen and invalid passport data in real-time, without pooling data in a shared central database," APEC reported.

The system being planned will search for the provided document number, retrieve the document record, match the data in the request with data held by the issuer and provide a validation directive, the documents said.

A further project is planned to enhance this system and provide a richer set of data including "bio data and photographic images."

APEC said the RMAS is a model of how border control can be improved through the near instantaneous automated checking of passport data at its source.

"Based on its success, APEC Leaders have agreed to the further expansion of RMAS to other APEC economies wishing to participate," the APEC fact sheet said.

In the first year of the pilot, nearly 3 million RMAS transactions occurred, detecting 418 lost, stolen and invalid passports, APEC said.

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