A good number of Red Notice subjects who seek to remove their notices from INTERPOL’s files are legitimate businessmen and women who need to travel to maintain their livelihoods.  Many of them find themselves forced to challenge a Red Notice that was improperly issued based on political grounds or business disputes. The fact that they are in the midst of fighting a Red Notice does nothing to change the reality that they must continue to operated their businesses and, very frequently, to travel for business purposes.

Accordingly, one of the most frequently asked questions posed by Red Notice subjects is, “What will happen if I travel? Is it safe?”  And the very unnerving answer to the question is, it depends.

Whether a Red Notice subject is detained while traveling internationally depends in part on:

  • Which countries they choose as temporary ports and destinations;
  • Whether those countries have systems in place to check travelers’ identifications against INTERPOL’s databases; and
  •  Whether the employees on duty at the time of the travel actually run the checks on the travelers’ identities

If no system is in place, or if a system is not followed, then a Red Notice subject may travel undetected. INTERPOL’s databases also include other types of information, such as missing persons, stolen travel documents, and a member country’s failure to check INTERPOL’s databases will also result in that country’s inability to make a “hit” even when the opportunity presents itself. 

A perfect example of such a failure is provided by Malaysia’s apparent failure to check passenger passports against INTERPOL’s databases, which resulted in two passengers boarding a flight with stolen passports.  That aircraft is now missing. INTERPOL issued a public statement today regarding what is now known about those passports.

According to INTERPOL, two of the passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight 370 boarded the flight using stolen passports issued by Italy and Austria.   The passports both had been stolen from Thailand in previous years.

If Malaysian authorities had checked its passengers’ passports against INTERPOL’s databases, the use of the two stolen passports would have been discovered.  Whether the stolen passports were related to the apparent demise of the plane is yet unknown.  INTERPOL’s Secretary General, Ronald Noble, was quoted in what must have been an extremely frustrating statement to have to issue:

“This is a situation we had hoped never to see. For years INTERPOL has asked why should countries wait for a tragedy to put prudent security measures in place at borders and boarding gates. 

Now, we have a real case where the world is speculating whether the stolen passport holders were terrorists, while INTERPOL is asking why only a handful of countries worldwide are taking care to make sure that persons possessing stolen passports are not boarding international flights.”

Mr. Noble also highlighted the need for member countries to utilize the stolen and lost passport database in a speech last month in the U.A.E.  INTERPOL has reported that the U.K., the U.S., and the U.A.E. run frequent checks on passports through INTERPOL’s databases, but many other member countries with access to INTERPOL’s files did not.

As for whether it’s safe to travel as a Red Notice subject, of course the answer should be that detention is always a possibility.  Flight 370 illustrates that such travel often goes completely undetected. After this weekend, however, it’s probably safe to say that Malaysia will up its game.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.