US passports to identify convicted child sex offenders

Passports (ThinkStock)

(CNN) — The State Department began revoking the passports of convicted child sex offenders this week, in order to comply with a law passed last year. Those affected will have to apply for new passports, which will be marked to indicate their conviction.

International Megan’s Law, which was passed last year to crack down on child exploitation, requires the State Department to ensure that all passports of registered offenders are marked with a “unique identifier.” It also strengthens the Justice Department’s ability to track offenders’ international travel.

In a press release Monday, the Department of Homeland Security said the identifiers would be printed inside the back cover of new passports and read, “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor, and is a covered sex offender pursuant to 22 United States Code Section 212b(c)(l).”

The statement noted that registered offenders will no longer qualify to receive passport cards, since these can’t be physically marked.

A State Department official told CNN Thursday that covered child sex offenders can continue to travel on their existing passports until the State Department notifies them by letter that the documents have been revoked.

“As long as the individual continues to be certified by (the Department of Homeland Security) as a covered sex offender as defined in the law,” the official added, “any passports subsequently issued to that individual will have the unique identifier.”

A 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office found that thousands of individuals on the National Sex Offender Registry had received US passports, and further revealed that the State Department had no legal mechanisms to deny passports to registered sex offenders, except those specifically convicted of sex tourism.

In a response provided to CNN at the time, the State Department called the report “very misleading,” adding, “the report appears to suggest, without any foundation, that the Department’s issuance of passports to certain Americans facilitated their commission of sex crimes abroad.”