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Info shown when passport is scanned

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1. Posted by Shem (Budding Member, 8 posts) 24 Dec '10 04:46

I have noticed that there are often questions around the internet on what actually shows up when your passport is scanned by the Immigration Control officials of any country. I had a search through the internet and was appalled by some of the silly and often hysterical advice given to people who were obviously anxious and wanted sensible information.

So I just wanted to say, in case there are other people who were concerned about this issue, that I had cause to contact the Passport agency very recently and this is what they told me:

There is no magical database that pops up when your passport is scanned in another country to let them know that you were a bad person in your youth or even recently. As long as there are no warrants out, nationally or internationally through Interpol, on you as an individual, you are not on the SOR or currently undergoing criminal investigation, engaged in terrorist activities and on a Watch List, taking children out of the country without parental permission or actually on probation or awaiting sentencing at this time, nothing will be flagged up when they scan your passport. The only information the officials at your destination will see is any alerts which result from any of the above.

Contrary to popular and mistaken belief, your criminal record held by the Police does not immediately pop up when they scan the passport. The UK will only share information with another country about an individual's criminal record if the request is made by that country through the correct Interpol channels. To do that they have to suspect you in the first place.

The UK Passport Office say that this is only likely to occur if you commit a crime while in the country you travelled to. If you are apprehended by the local police for, say, a driving offence, robbery, assault etc, then they are likely to check with the UK, but they still have to do it through the right legal channels.

Unfortunately there is a lot of hysterical misinformation on the internet regarding this issue. Comments range from... "They scan your passport and your whole criminal record is there!" down to relatively sensible advice, but the most common beliefs by far are that the different countries have this huge shared common database that they refer to whenever your passport is scanned at Immigration Control. People actually do believe, in my case my son who was convicted of driving without licence or insurance when he was 15 and was fined, that everything you ever did is there in front of the official's steely gaze.

It isn't. They have to have real cause to investigate further and this only comes about if there is an alert flagged up at the point of entry.

The computer chip or machine readable passports do not hold your criminal records or any other personal information other than your name, place of birth, date of birth, passport number and the issue and expiry dates of the document. The chip is capable of carrying other information, but not criminal records. You can check what is held on the chip by using IPS at a passport office. Using this will reveal the information held therein.

As I say, I had cause recently (today in fact) to check this with the UK Passport Agency and this is what they have told me. They actually laughed when I told them that people believe that the moment your passport is scanned, then it's a case of This is Your Life including any crimes you might have committed. Information is only exchanged through the legal channels, it isn't at the tap of a key on a console of the computer thousands of miles away from the UK. The only countries who share databases and records are the US and Canada, for obvious reasons.

The US are no more aware of UK criminal records than anyone else, unless of course you choose to inform them yourself. My best advice for anyone wanting to travel to the US is to ensure you fill in the ESTA form (which is an online version of the form they used to hand out an hour before landing in the US) and you will have to pay $14 for the privilege, by credit or debit card. I have travelled and lived in the US and personally given the terrorist hysteria that abounds there, it is not a pleasant place to holiday in these days.

The ESTA form itself only asks the same information as the paper card previously used...have you committed or been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, are you a terrorist? etc. Well in my experience most travellers haven't the foggiest idea what moral turpitude actually is, never mind whether they've committed a crime involving it. They generally scratch their heads and put no down as an answer. (Moral turpitude = murder, sexual offences, major fraud, grand larceny, kidnapping, terrorism. Having a DUI when you were 18 is not moral turpitude according to the legal definition) Unless you have that ESTA completed before travel to the US under Visa Waiver programme, they will not let you enter the country.

So contrary to popular hysterical and ill-informed belief, your whole life, including all your indiscretions both minor and major, youthful or otherwise, does NOT flash before your eyes when your passport is scanned. Well it might if you have a guilty conscience of course!

If a traveller from the UK is unsure of whether a visa is required for the country they are visiting, having a look at the FCO site is advised. Most foreign Consulates actually give a list of countries from which they require a visa. Many countries, like South Africa, have arrangements for certain countries not to need a visa. Anyone with a UK passport, for example, can enter South Africa without a visa for a stay of up to 90 days. You do, however, have to have 30 days before expiry on your passport from the date of departure and you have to have and be able to show a return ticket.

My apologies if this has been posted before elsewhere, but I searched and searched last night to no avail to try and answer my son's concerns and this morning decided to get the information out of the horse's mouth, so to speak. I decided that if I was ignorant of what actually happened, then many others might be and if this helps them, then all to the good.

2. Posted by CheersT (Travel Guru, 1569 posts) 24 Dec '10 11:06

1.) You should have made your post more directly referring to UK Passport holders instead of making sweeping statements regarding all nationalities. For example, this is completely false: "... but the most common beliefs by far are that the different countries have this huge shared common database that they refer to whenever your passport is scanned at Immigration Control..." On the contrary Canada and US share EVERYTHING and your entire record comes up instantly as soon as your Passport is scanned and your identity is confirmed.

2.) You completely misunderstand what the US defines as a crime of moral turpitude. It's not just, "... murder, sexual offenses, major fraud, grand larceny, kidnapping, terrorism..." Being convicted of carrying a single marijuana joint or a simple $10 shoplifting charge is a crime of moral turpitude and it's enough to be denied entry into the US. On the other side of the coin a DUI on your record means nothing entering the US, but it's a huge issue with Canada and is a leading factor in being denied entry.

I understand why you made the post and I commend you for trying to set the record straight, but your OP is far too long and rambling to be easily readable. It doesn't need to be a 1,000+ word essay... if you edited it down considerably and just stuck the facts it would be a very helpful piece of information for Nervous Nellies holding UK Passports.

All the best to you.

Cheers,
Terry

3. Posted by Shem (Budding Member, 8 posts) 24 Dec '10 11:37

Well thanks...I think...

Actually I did refer at the beginning to the UK Passport office which should have given the readers the idea that the post was aimed at UK passport holders. My apologies if I gave a different impression.

The point I was trying to make and obviously failed at, was that there is no sharing of criminal records between countries other than Canada and the US and this is because they share a border. Canada and the US are only two countries where people travel to, but you could be excused for believing that they are the ONLY countries in the world which are holiday destinations.

In all the posts on the subject that I could find, comments were made assuming that as soon as the UK passport is scanned, it brings up a holder's entire criminal record, which in fact it doesn't. A holder's criminal record is only highlighted if there is outstanding flags, such as those I outlined above.

The point I was trying to make and obviously failed at, was that most people have no idea what moral turpitude actually is, so when faced with that question on the ESTA, tend to just say no anyway, and unless there are outstanding warrants or the holder is on a Watch List, US immigration officials are unlikely to know whether someone has a criminal record or not...whether it be shoplifting, murder or having Mary Jane for personal use. Unless of course they actually tell them. Most travellers don't.

As I said, I was trying to point out that there is no huge central shared database which kicks into action when a UK passport is scanned. I can't speak for US passport holders. I have no idea what information the US Immigration Control demands to be put on their passports.

And to be honest, if I want to write 1000+ essay, I will do so, I don't believe I need your permission. Anyone who really wants information will read the post no matter how long it is. I was only trying to fill in a gap in the abundant misinformation around.

And all the best to you...

Merry Christmas

4. Posted by CheersT (Travel Guru, 1569 posts) 24 Dec '10 11:49

Sorry I stepped on your toes. I wasn't discounting the spirit of your OP in any way, shape or form. In fact I commended your effort.

That said, in my opinion it's a really long, fairly incoherent, rambling and sometimes misinformed account of a very simple, straightforward situation. That's only an opinion and of course meaningless on an anonymous Internet travel forum so there's no need to get cranky.

Merry Christmas to you too.

Cheers,
Terry

5. Posted by joffre (Respected Member, 157 posts) 24 Dec '10 12:52

I wonder if Julian Assange's moral turpitude would stop him from gaining entry to the US?

6. Posted by CheersT (Travel Guru, 1569 posts) 25 Dec '10 11:34

Haha...

Cheers,
Terry

7. Posted by vegasmike6 (Travel Guru, 3536 posts) 26 Dec '10 11:27

I have been following this thread and have a few comments. Those of us that have been on TP for years have seen the same post repeatedly. "Can I visit the US with a arrest or criminal record." Frequently the poster is from the UK. Most members that have entered the US with the visa waiver program always recommended the same advice. Answer "No" to all questions about criminal or arrest records. Makes sense. US Immigration does not have your criminal record on their computer screen. Or so I thought. We recently had a UK citizen report otherwise. A mother took her daughter and daughter's BF to the US. Her daughter's BF answered 'No' to all the criminal questions using the visa waiver program. When they fingerprinted him, his UK arrest record popped up. He was denied entry, sent home on the next plane to the UK.

I see three choices here.
1. She is lying for whatever reason.
2. We are not getting the whole story.
3. US Immigration can access UK criminal records

If any UK member has first hand experience with recently entering the US with a criminal record, it would be helpful to hear their story.

8. Posted by CheersT (Travel Guru, 1569 posts) 27 Dec '10 09:56

Mike,

The US and Canada are (to my knowledge) the only two countries on the planet that completely share EVERYTHING in their respective criminal databases. Even more unbelievable is that not only are all convictions shared - no matter how minor or how old - even arrests that don't result in charges being officially laid are shared too. It's disgusting.

The US CBP (Customs and Border Protection) does NOT have access to "normal" UK criminal databases. In other words a DUI in the UK will not show up on the US CBP computer. What they can access is shared databases with several other agencies like Interpol, etc. that track more serious crimes like major felonies.

Of course it's only a matter of time before everything is shared everywhere, just like it is between the US and Canada. That'll be a sad day...

Cheers,
Terry

9. Posted by Shem (Budding Member, 8 posts) 27 Dec '10 11:28

Sorry Terry, I was a bit cranky. I didn't anticipate being faced with my son's paranoia plus the suicide of my brother in law because he has a progressive wasting illness but has been told under the new UK government rules about disability benefits that he is no longer going to receive it. That happened the day I posted. That's why I haven't been around.

This does seem to be a frequent question. I didn't know how frequent until I searched for an answer. The UK Passport Office were quite firm in what they said. Only if the passport holder has outstanding warrants or belongs to one of the watch list groups will this be flagged up. Also if a passport is forged or reported stolen.

The UK Criminal Records Bureau were also quite firm. They say that there are no plans to link an individual's criminal record with their passport. They said it would be too confusing to even try. However they do share information with other countries if it is requested, but it has to be done through the proper channels.

I guess what you mean by normal is the criminal records that are done and dusted, not ones which are current or ongoing. For example, my son had the conviction from 15 years ago for driving without license or insurance. Both the Passport office and CRB assure me that convictions that are spent are not flagged up on passports. By spent they mean that the sentence given has been completed and the person is not on probation.

Interestingly my son and his fiancee did travel through the US on their way to get married and at that time he answered no to everything on the form they were given. He was allowed entry with no problem. This was in 2002. I am really not sure what kicked him off this time. Stupid information from silly people who make assumptions I suppose.

[ Edit: Edited on 27-Dec-2010, at 11:30 by Shem ]

10. Posted by CheersT (Travel Guru, 1569 posts) 27 Dec '10 20:30

As far as I can see everything that you just restated is simply agreeing with everything that I posted.

Sorry to hear about your family troubles.

Cheers,
Terry