© Josh Hunter


API and PNR: two key words on the global security agenda

10 June 2015
By Kunio Mikuriya, Secretary General, World Customs Organization


In this article, I would like to share my thoughts on Customs’ use of Advance Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Name Record (PNR) data, which is a vital tool in deterring the threat of terrorism and organized crime, while facilitating international travel.


Terrorism: an ongoing threat

Recent violence in several regions show that terrorism continues to be a major concern for the international community. Terrorism is increasingly global in nature and frequently has cross-border implications. Customs, which has the prime responsibility for controlling cross-border movements of goods, means of transport and in some instances passengers, plays an important role in deterring these and other border security threats.

Due to differing national mandates and legal competencies, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model for Customs security functions. There is, however, a common thread underlying the Customs contribution: Customs contributes by deterring the smuggling of dangerous goods that can practically or financially support terrorism and organized crime.

Moreover, a growing number of administrations have a broadened security mandate that also covers the enforcement of travel bans. This is particularly important considering the threats posed by the foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) phenomenon. With respect to FTFs, even if immigration controls are not necessarily the primary function of most Customs administrations, Customs is a sought-after partner through the various border related information flows it possesses in relation to goods and travellers.

The contribution of API/PNR data

It is widely recognized that modern facilitation tools, such as API systems, help to improve the overall security of international air transport. Globally, a number of API systems have been implemented successfully with proven benefits for security, facilitation and enforcement.

In recent years, some countries have gone beyond API and have legislated in order to require from carriers, additional data relating to passengers in the form of PNR data, which is a wider data set used for the purposes of risk assessment. Many governments now require the submission by airlines of API/PNR data, allowing responsible authorities, such as Customs, immigration or police, to assess the risk posed by travellers as part of efforts to combat transnational crime.

In 2012, the WCO adopted the Recommendation Concerning the Use of Advanced Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Name Records (PNR) for Efficient and Effective Customs Control. The emphasis of the WCO Recommendation is on effective border control against serious transnational crime covering, among other things, the illicit trafficking in drugs and other contraband.

The WCO sees API/PNR, which is a core component of the WCO’s Security Programme, as a very useful technique to enhance border security while maintaining facilitation for low-risk passengers; thus, this benefits Customs and other border agencies, as well as carriers, airport authorities, other passenger facility operators, and passengers themselves.

The WCO Revised Kyoto Convention on the simplification and harmonization of Customs procedures took this into account, and API is now included in Specific Annex J1 (Travellers) of the Convention as a ‘Recommended Practice.’ The technique has already been used with great success and is likely to expand in the future.

I, therefore, strongly encourage Customs administrations to use API/PNR data actively, and to implement and use relevant WCO instruments and tools. Closer cooperation between Customs and other law enforcement agencies too enables effective border controls, better security, and the facilitation of legitimate trade.


The API Guidelines were initially developed in 1993 by the WCO in cooperation with the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Subsequently, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) joined the process and a ‘Contact Committee’ comprising the three organizations was formed. In order to help their respective members implement the API system, the three organizations jointly published the WCO/IATA/ICAO Guidelines on Advance Passenger Information in 2003, 2010 and in 2013.

The Guidelines comprise an explanatory section on the use of API. They consist also of a maximum list of API data and an Annex with the internationally recognized electronic UN/EDIFACT message – known as PAXLST, as well as an implementation guide for the PAXLST message. The most recent update included new provisions to address issues such as security, data protection, mutual administrative assistance and ‘Interactive API’, which is a more advanced method of passenger processing at airports.

Guidelines regarding PNR were developed by ICAO in close cooperation with IATA and the WCO. They include an explanatory text for the use of PNR information and an Annex with a maximum list of PNR data. These Guidelines also include a standardized message for the exchange of PNR information. First published in 2006, the latest edition was published in 2010 as ICAO Document 9944. Cooperation between the three organizations will result in the official association of IATA and the WCO in the joint future development of the PNR Guidelines.

Partnerships are also vital and the API-PNR Contact Committee has been very successful as the final ‘clearing house’ for any changes to the reporting standards for both API and PNR. Countries having developed, or thinking of developing, a passenger data transmission process are invited to join the Contact Committee.

United Nations and the G7

The United Nations (UN) is, of course, also active in the field of API/PNR. UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2178, adopted in September 2014, which creates a new policy framework for international action in response to the FTF threat, is a key driver. The Resolution, among other things, “calls upon Member States to require that airlines operating in their territories provide advance passenger information to the appropriate national authorities in order to detect the departure from their territories, or attempted entry into or transit through their territories, by means of civil aircraft,” of terrorists.

The G7, in its G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting Communiqué, issued in Lübeck, Germany on 15 April 2015, called “on the international community to collaborate closely and exchange relevant information, particularly information under UNSC Resolution 2178 related to the provision by airlines operating on their territory of advance passenger information in order to detect travel of individuals designated by the Committee established pursuant to Resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011)” that oversees the implementation by UN Member States of the three sanction measures – asset freeze, travel ban and arms embargo – imposed against targeted individuals and entities associated with Al-Qaida, as designated by the Committee in its Sanctions List.

WCO/UN partnership on API/PNR

The WCO and the UN are closely collaborating on API/PNR. Last year, the President of the UN Security Council wrote to me asking if the WCO could update its API/PNR Recommendation in order to strengthen law enforcement through the possibility of taking timely action in preventing inadmissible passengers from boarding aircraft as part of the effective implementation of travel bans and other restrictions against individuals, and in taking other preventive measures against terrorism.

I welcomed the suggestion and the proposal was taken up at the last API-PNR Contact Committee and WCO Permanent Technical Committee (PTC) meetings. At the PTC, Members supported the insertion, in the list of actions that Members of the WCO, Customs and Economic Unions should take, of phrasing that reads “effectively support the implementation of UN travel bans against sanctioned individuals.” The WCO is currently circulating the proposed text to its Members who have accepted the API/PNR Recommendation for their acceptance.


The WCO will continue to closely follow all security developments and keep its Members updated on the progress in relation to API/PNR including the WCO/UN initiative as part of the Organization’s efforts to ensure global security while facilitating the movement of legitimate trade and travellers.