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More int'l airlines to provide passenger data

By Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Five international air carriers that balked at providing U.S. officials with advance information on passengers have decided to do so, the U.S. Customs Service said Tuesday.

Egypt Air, Kuwait Airways, Canada-based Air Transat, Greece-based Olympic Airways and Germany-based LTU have agreed to participate in the voluntary program. The move comes amid threats from Capitol Hill to pass legislation requiring the passenger information.

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Under a memoranda of understanding, biographical information on passengers will be provided before their arrival in the United States so authorities can search for known or suspected terrorists.

The information will collected before a flight departs and transmitted to the Customs Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service while it is under way.

Besides names, the airlines will provide nationalities, birth dates, passport and visa information of passengers. In some cases travel itineraries will also be provided.

One airline notably absent from the list is the Saudi Arabian carrier Saudia Airlines, a federal law enforcement official told CNN.

At least seven other airlines have refused or said they are unable to participate in the voluntary program, according to Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota, who is promoting a law to require airlines to provide such information.

Dorgan's office said that among the carriers yet to sign up are America West, Royal Jordanian Air, Pakistani International, Aer Lingus, Bahamas Air, Canada 3000 and Champion Air.

Among the five carriers who have agreed to provide the information only one -- LTU based in Dusseldorf -- is capable of transmitting passenger information to the Customs Service. The others have promised to develop the systems needed.

The agency's Advanced Passenger Information System has become a much-discussed topic in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

"We are pleased that these airlines have agreed to provide APIS data," said U.S. Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner in a statement issued Tuesday.

"Compliance with APIS, however, should be mandatory for all airlines so that U.S. Customs can screen all passengers on international flights for known or suspected terrorists before they arrive in the U.S.," he wrote.

Dorgan's provision for mandatory notification is in the Senate version of a bill in a House-Senate conference committee. Proponents insist the voluntary program does not work.

"If they sign up, they can un-sign up," said a spokesman for Dorgan.

Last year, advance information was sent to the United States for about 85 percent of the 57 million passengers arriving in the country.

The absence of the Egyptian and Saudi Arabian airlines was of particular concern to some officials following the September 11 attacks.


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