Who’s Looking at Your Passport and What They’re Looking For

Privacy, Rights

In light of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, questions have been raised over what happens when your passport is scanned at customs (at least two passports reported as stolen were used to board the flight). What agencies are looking at your passport, and what are they looking for?

The U.S. and Canada share databases and records in such a way that international checkpoints may view your criminal records upon scanning your passport. While your passport does not necessarily contain your criminal history on its chip, airlines are able to pull up criminal databases. You can check what information is being held on your passport’s chip by using IPS at a passport office, although this will not show your criminal history.

Entering/Leaving the U.S. as a Foreigner

Foreigners entering the U.S. will not be allowed to enter if they have committed a crime of moral turpitude, which is sort of a foggy term.  Moral turpitude at least refers to crimes including terrorism, sexual assault, and felonies in general. However, even being convicted of carrying a single marijuana joint or a simple $10 shoplifting charge could be considered a crime of moral turpitude and could be enough grounds to be denied entry into the U.S. But will the U.S. see your criminal record? You will be required to fill out an ESTA form, where you will answer whether you have committed such a crime.

Suppose you are a permanent resident, but not yet a citizen of the U.S. People in this situation may encounter trouble re-entering the U.S. after being charged with a crime — especially one of moral turpitude.  Your likelihood of encountering a problem at customs will depend on the seriousness and status of your charges, which you should review with an excellent immigration lawyer.

Citizens Boarding Flights in the U.S.

Certain convictions can keep you from traveling to certain countries outside the United States — and the crimes that could keep you locked out might surprise you. U.S. citizens will not be allowed to enter Canada if they have a DUI conviction on their record, since a DUI, although a misdemeanor in the U.S., is a felony in Canada. To be sure about whether you’ll be able to travel between countries, contact the embassy of the country you are traveling to (you can visit the Canadian embassy’s website here).

Travelers attempting to leave the country will likely be detained if there is a warrant out for their arrest. In January, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at Seattle-Tacoma Airport arrested a man attempting to depart the United States en route to Mexico aboard Alaska Airlines flight 204.

Without a warrant, there shouldn’t be any basis for detaining you as a suspect of a crime. If you are met by authorities at the airport, remember you still have the right to remain silent. Hire an attorney immediately.