updated 6/9/2004 9:27:00 PM ET 2004-06-10T01:27:00

Heightened airport security is here to stay, but world leaders looking to better protect air travelers from terrorism also say they want to let those who pose no threat pass more easily through checks.

Leaders from the powerful Group of Eight nations meeting on this resort island on Wednesday approved a 28-point plan to further strengthen security while trying not to gum up travel with unnecessary and costly screening.

Despite tougher security measures and better intelligence cooperation implemented since the Sept. 11 attacks, the G-8 agreement says “terrorist attacks against the transportation system remain a serious threat.”

The G-8 plan seeks quicker exchanges of information about passengers, better protected flight decks, and controls on shoulder-fired missiles that officials fear terrorists could use to shoot down commercial jets.

The G-8 groups together Italy, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, Russia and the United States — all countries where air travel is a major form of transport.

U.S. official: High security here to stay
President Bush’s counterterrorism chief, Frances Townsend, said the proposals also aim to speed the flow of legitimate travelers. But she said that heavy security will not disappear.

“We are never going to go back, but we can take some of the anxiety and aggravation out of it, and that’s exactly what we want to do here,” she said in an interview. “Security will always be first but there’s got to be a way to have those security measures as targeted as you possibly can.”

In the agreement, G-8 leaders pledged to respect privacy rules as they seek better and faster information about travelers — responding to critics concerned that personal data may be misused.

France, for one, said that in future negotiations about security, it would stay vigilant about how passenger data is used.

“France is among those countries that believe that the fight against terrorism must be conducted with respect for the values of our democracies,” said Catherine Colonna, French President Jacques Chirac’s spokeswoman.

Better information is key
With better information, airport security officers are less likely to stop passengers who are not a threat, Townsend said.

“If I have enough data on John Smith ... the likelihood of my stopping the right John Smith and enabling all the wrong John Smiths in the world to travel through is pretty good, and that’s the reason to do this,” she said.

The agreement include plans to:

  • Develop methods where possible to exchange data about passengers in real time, while fully respecting privacy rules.
  • Feed information into a database run by the Interpol international police agency that will allow countries to share data on stolen and lost travel documents.
  • Accelerate efforts to destroy excess and obsolete shoulder-fired missiles. In 2002, terrorists fired two surface-to-air missiles that barely missed an Israeli airliner taking off from Mombasa, Kenya.
  • Work together on improving methods to analyze information about passengers, crew and cargo before they travel.
  • Expand research on biometric technologies that can identify passengers from their retinas or other physical characteristics.

Cases of mistaken identity caused havoc with flights between France and the United States last Christmas. The French government grounded flights because the names of passengers sounded strikingly similar to those of terrorist suspects provided by the FBI.

But instead of terrorists, one passenger was a 5-year-old, another was a prominent Egyptian scientist, and others were reportedly an elderly Chinese woman and a Welsh insurance agent.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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