January 6, 2017

Damaged passports may be impounded and the holders may be detained in the wake of airport security escalation

Essentially any damage on travel documents that result in machine-reading failure or affect critical identity information can result in the document being impounded and that the traveller being detained or prevented from travel, according to the Standard Operating Procedure manual (SOP) of the Australian Border Force.

Under legislation, it is a serious offence to use or facilitate the use of a cancelled or otherwise invalid Australian travel document. The SOP which was released on an FOI request states that, suspicious, cancelled or invalid travel documents and travel documents where the holder has a financial debt to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) which are presented at the border should be impounded by a delegated officer.

While the SOP notes that immigration officers have an over-riding obligation to facilitate the entry and departure of Australian citizens in a timely manner, they are however required to impound travel documents which they determine are “not usable as evidence of identity and citizenship of its holder or to facilitate international travel.”

According to the SOP, the following points are evidence that a document is damaged and must be surrendered:

  • any of the visible information (including the photograph or machine readable zone) on the data page of the passport has been altered or tampered with, is faulty or cannot be read reliably;
  • the data page (including the laminate) of the passport has been tampered with, altered, damaged or dislodged, or has degraded,
  • any page is missing, substantially damaged or damaged to the extent that it cannot be read reliably,
  • any other part of the binding or the structure of the passport has been tampered with or substantially damaged,
  • that any part of the passport’s contactless integrated circuit (i.e. the electronic chip) is damaged or has been tampered or interfered with, or removed,
  • other circumstances that the Minister could consider that make the document unusable as evidence of the identity and citizenship of its holder.

The SOP notes that such damaged, invalid or suspicious documents will be impounded regardless of the holder’s travel plans noting that there are potential adverse consequences for the holder if they are allowed to depart Australia on a damaged travel document as the document may be considered by foreign government border officials to be fraudulent. This may result in delays on arrival to, denial of entry into, and/or detention in other countries.

Security at international airports particularly in Europe have been increased in the wake of terrorist attacks in Brussels which injured hundreds and killed at least 31 people yesterday. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull today called on Australian border force and airport security workers to cease strike action in the wake of the Brussels attacks.