U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick’s (R-PA) bipartisan bill to keep American travelers safer overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives on Jan. 9 by a vote of 415-1. The measure is Fitzpatrick’s fourth to be approved by the House during the 115th Congress.
The Screening and Vetting Passenger Exchange Act of 2017, H.R. 4581, calls on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary to establish best practices for using certain passenger data and to share those practices with nations such as those participating in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
Currently, DHS — specifically U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration — employ the electronic data interchange Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) to review the information of travelers heading into or leaving the United States on commercial flights or commercial vessels. APIS allows carriers to transmit that data pre-boarding to CBP, providing advance passenger information — or what is typically found on the face of a passport, according to CBP — that allows the agencies to spot possible threats and coordinate with carriers and foreign law enforcement to prevent a person of interest from boarding, according to a CBP fact sheet.
Additionally, H.R. 4581 would provide support to certain countries, including VWP countries, to start applying the shared best practices, according to the bill’s summary. For example, DHS would have permission under the bill to assist European Union (EU) member states working to implement a 2016 EU anti-terrorism directive to use passenger name record data. Fitzpatrick’s office said in a statement that many member states currently don’t have the capabilities to meet the directive’s May deadline.
Rep. Fitzpatrick said his previous job as an FBI special agent provided him an opportunity to view the risks associated with terrorism and the threats they posed for the country.
“I also saw my colleagues in the Bureau and across our nation’s security and intelligence agencies hampered in their mission by a lack of information sharing between the United States and our allies, and when other countries abided by less stringent security and vetting protocols,” Fitzpatrick said.
U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) joined Fitzpatrick in introducing the bill on Dec. 7, 2017 and this week stressed the need to share best practices with VWP nations.
“Allowing our men and women on the front line of the fight against terrorism to work with Visa Waiver Program countries to make sure that they rise to the same standard only increases the safety of our nation, the safety of Americans traveling abroad, and the safety of all people, across the globe,” said Rep. Rice.
U.S. Reps. John Katko (R-NY) and Michael McCaul (R-TX) also signed on to H.R. 4581 as original cosponsors. The bill now moves to the Senate for its consideration.