Homeland Security Makes Traveling Harder . . . Again

Government Regulation, Safety/Security

Nothing like some misguided Homeland Security policy to make you feel all warm and cozy. This time, we’ve got two policies, one that will impact foreign visitors and the other that could theoretically impact anyone.

First, let’s start with the rule that will affect non-US citizens. There are 27 countries that participate in the visa waiver program which allows people to visit the US without a visa. When they travel now, they can just grab their passports, hop on the plane, and fill out immigration forms enroute. That will change by January 12 when anyone traveling on a visa waiver will have to register electronically at least three days prior to traveling. There will, fortunately, be exemptions for people who book at the last minute, but what about people who forget? Will they be turned away?

I suppose the good news is that you only have to register once every two years, but that means the US will be keeping more info about you electronically. The more changes we make, the more we discourage people from visiting. Is it really not enough to have paperwork filled out on the flight? I mean, it’s a great option to offer the ability to register online beforehand for those who prefer, but making it mandatory just adds one more hurdle for foreign visitors to deal with as they plan their trips.

And now, let’s turn to the other news. Beginning June 21, you will be required to show a photo ID when you travel. Wait, didn’t you have to do that before? Nope, you didn’t. If you didn’t want to use a photo ID, you could still travel but you had to go through more rigorous screening. As you can imagine, this didn’t happen that often, but it did happen.

The rule says that exceptions will be made for people who have lost their ID, but really, who is to make the determination that it’s specifically been lost and you’re not just trying to avoid showing ID? The officer? Yikes. Here’s what the TSA has to say on the subject. I have to disagree with them. Why do we need to know exactly who is traveling? Anyone who willing travels without an ID is going to face such increased scrutiny that they would be idiots to try and do something sinister that way. Anyone really trying to cause trouble would just get a fake ID of some sort in order to blend it.

As fare as I’m concerned, as long as ID-less passengers don’t have anything dangerous on them, they should be allowed to fly. What do you think?

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26 comments on “Homeland Security Makes Traveling Harder . . . Again

  1. Both are idiotic and will backfire. On one hand it’ll decrease a few tourists from Europe but worse I’d expect Europe to start doing the same with for US passport holders.

    The ID is part of the failed belief that establishing who you claim to be will somehow help determine what you intend to do. The false positive (unnecessary hassle) rate is too high and there’ll inevitably be false negatives (failing to capture the real hijacker) because there are terrorists with past history.

    The initiative is the wrong answer to “why check 70 year old grandmas” or “why do you check the frequent flier”

  2. I think you should check the frequent flier. I think the CLEAR pass is a dumb idea from a security standpoint (you are “CLEAR.” I am terrorist. I kill you, and take your CLEAR card, hack it and walk through security with my box cutter, my .45 magnum or whatever else I care to walk past security). And I think that, despite the high death toll from 9/11, the hassle and loss of commerce to fliers, both domestic and international is a bigger loss (small inconvenience compared to being dead, but large when you compare the number of affected versus the flying dead from 9/11).

    So, to expect good policy out of a government agency that defends it’s ever growing appropriation based on keeping fear levels high is to expect pigs to sprout wings and develop flight. Of course, when that happens, I’ll ditch the airline security line altogether and fly my pig drawn chariot to where I’m going.

  3. I wonder if there there is a non-electronic registration option for those without internet access. Obviously, the vast majority of people who would be traveling to the U.S. from abroad probably have internet access, but it is conceivable that somebody from more rural areas of underdeveloped countries–like the Gambia or Haiti, for example–might have used a travel agent to book his or her flights over the phone and may not have easy access to a computer or connection with which to register prior to departure (not to mention that, even if they do have access to a communal internet connection, they might not be computer savvy enough to navigate the registration process without assistance). I guess the travel agent could register for them, but it still seems like there should be some sort of contingency plan in place.

  4. @Zach, the new rules are for 30+ visa-waiver countries which don’t include the likes of Gambia or Haiti but Japan, Australia and most of Western Europe. Those who need a visa pay at least 100$ and go for an interview at an embassy which is part of a lengthy process…

  5. Thanks for the clarification. I read the post hastily and misinterpreted it to mean that this was being implemented for all visitors to the US, including those from the visa-waiver countries.

  6. Zach and Andy,

    The waiver does not include East Europe, yet, I believe. Beyond that, however, I wonder what good all of these humiliating rules have done. The Bushies will said no hijackings have occurred since implementation. They are right, of course, but they can not prove their efforts have thwarted a hijacker. What the rest of us can prove is that air travel has become hard, more onerous and harder again. Shoes off, frisking little old ladies, small bottles only, long lines, finger nail clippers adjudged lethal, and all the rest. I wonder if Chertoff and his buddies have gone through the system, or do they have a special lane? I guess they think their rules have saved lives. Perhaps. I doubt it.

  7. Here is a complete list of the countries currently participating in the visa waiver program:

    The Netherlands
    New Zealand
    San Marino
    United Kingdom

    In addition, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, and Slovakia have all begun working with the US on joining the program, but visas are still required for now.

  8. As I mentioned, folk in Romania, for example, have to prove they will return before they are granted a visa. That means they have to earn enough points by showing they are leaving money behind in a bank account, have property, are leaving loved one behind and have a job. The idea is to keep young Romanian from coming here to steal jobs from you and me. Consequently, if an old guy wants to come here to see a cousin married he has to take the train to the capital (perhaps a two day run), take a number and hope the counselor offices get to him, otherwise back to the train station to sleep on a bench. It has kept the Romanians at bay. So, we should be happy that our government is stifling personal initiative in Romania, as well as here.

  9. This is the first wave of “homeland security”, initiated under the Patriot Act, to “protect us”. I dunno, are we fast moving to what we have seen in horror in movies where the government knows every step we take, ever move we make, they will be watching you. Can’t you see that you belong to me? I tossed a brick at a website called bricktoss.com to my senator on this subject that I am opposing this.

  10. I hope everyone here will join me in the Constant ID Losing Club. No offense to those who have legitimate senior moments but I’m going to have a nonviolently resistant and convenient forgetful moment every time I head to the airport. What’s next, they’ll have to keep a database of people who forget ID, to use in browbeating you the 2nd time you make the “mistake”? All this TSA nonsense. I’m burning FF miles and not flying unless I have to. Maybe when the airlines wise up and tell the government to cut this crap out, then we’ll get somewhere. Yet somehow I doubt it.

  11. Are there any supporters of these initiatives that would be willing to speak up? It’s easy to get comments that agree with me all day (and yes, please keep them coming), but I’d like to hear from the other side as well. Why do you support these? What do we gain?

  12. CF – I agree with you on the pre-registration for visa waiver countries. Seems foolish, inefficient, and not very welcoming. So, no argument with you or the other posters there.

    But people, get a grip on showing the ID thing. Nobody seems to question being carded at a bar or to get into a nightclub. And for me personally, I am very grateful when a cashier asks to see my ID when I use my credit card to protect me from identity theft/fraud. I will admit that I am quite opposed to the Patriot Act itself and find many of the current security policies both invasive and unjustifiable. It scares me that we have a Supreme Court that has warped our Constitution on myriad of 5-4 decisions. HOWEVER, I am absolutely in favor of showing ID to gain access to an airplane. If a passenger has legitimately forgotten their ID (something my grandmother has done), I think it is appropriate to super check that individual. And I personally oppose the Easy Check lane or whatever it is called – every passenger should be screened every time. If I am not mistaken, the airport screeners are not our first line of defense, but rather, they are the last line of defense. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to me that if you offer a fast lane check-in, the terrorists will simply fly long enough to become a “trusted” passenger in the Fast Lane, then they can gain easy access. Forget it – EVERY passenger should be screened.

    This is not big brother spying as others have argued above. It is simply an EFFICIENT means of ensuring that the passenger is the appropriate individual. That some will break the law and create a fake ID is not a reason to give up on checking IDs, but rather, it should serve as an impetus to improve our systems. Let the debate begin :)

  13. Great, thanks for posting that Artie.

    I can understand requiring ID for business reasons to avoid fraud, but that would be the responsibility of the airlines, not the government. If the airline wants to require ID at the time of check-in, that’s their prerogative, and I wouldn’t have a problem at all.

    If the TSA is doing it, it is solely a security issue, and why does the government need to know this? Now, if you aren’t going to show ID, you shouldn’t be able to skate through security unchecked. That should definitely be a flag that requires further screening, but if someone can pass secondary screening, I’d think that they’d be ok to get on the plane. I just can’t imagine someone wanting to do harm actually not bringing ID, because it would just bring closer scrutiny on his/her actions and that is exactly what he/she would want to avoid.

  14. First, I gotta admit that I feel like I’m debating with a super-cool international celebrity!! And since I live in CA, please know that if I ever come across you (unlikely since I don’t fly out of LGB much), I’m asking for your autograph :) lol

    Ya, I should have made clearer that I agree with your last point: I also can’t imagine that a terrorist would be dumb enough to forget ID since that would require extensive secondary screening. And like I said, I am all for allowing somebody who forgot their ID to be required to undergo the extensive secondary screening then still be allowed on the plane. But from what I read and understood of the new policy, they will still allow this to occur, albeit more stringently.

    However, I just don’t agree with your point about “why does the government need to know” where we are going. But there is a specific reason why I disagree: the TSA agent who checks my ID before I’m allowed into the security line doesn’t write down any of my information into any sort of database. They are not tracking where I’m going – they are only making sure that somebody with evil intentions doesn’t somehow steal my boarding pass and try to gain access to a “secured” area – granted, we all know that this is NOT 100% secure. But like my credit card analogy above, I view this as just one last step to protect my purchase and this is the most efficient way to maintain some semblance of security and order at the airport.

    On another note, aren’t airlines required to send a list of passengers on international flights ahead of time to some agency (TSA?)? THIS is where the argument of government tracking may have some traction, but again, as much as I value liberty, I don’t see a problem with the government wanting a list of who is arriving from overseas. Most of us expect our friends to call before they arrive at our front door. OK, not one of my best analogies, but you get the gist.

  15. I support these initiatives, as well, but Artie put it more eloquently than I would have. To be honest, though, I am not opposed to the pre-registration for the visa-exempt countries, either, especially after the Richard Reid incident. Then again, I never had much complaint with the need to remove my shoes in the security line, and I actually support Israeli-style profiling (full disclosure: I have traveled to Israel several times and have family there). I realize that I might be in the minority among the readership of this blog, but I am also someone who has literally been placed on one legacy carrier’s “watch list,” because my name happens to resemble that of somebody on the real no-fly list. As a result, every time I fly this particular airline (which is fairly frequently), I am unable to check in online, must wait in the check-in line, must show my ID at the check-in counter, and then be subject to a bag check once I clear the metal detector. This does not bother me, however, because if I am being screened because of my name, then it means that people who are true threats are more likely to be screened due to warning signs that might arise, be they ethnic or other.

    Am I cruel and racist? Maybe, but if that means even a minute increase in the chance that a terrorist might be caught, then I am willing to risk being labeled as such.

  16. Artie/Zach – So I think the international vs domestic arguments are very different here, at least in my mind. I definitely think we need to have secure borders, and part of that means knowing who comes in and out of the country via all methods of transportation. I just don’t like the pre-registration thing because it’s just one more step that people have to take to visit us. Any roadblocks that we put up must be absolutely necessary, and I just don’t get the big additional benefit of pre-registering vs doing it on the plane.

    Domestically, ok, it’s true that they probably aren’t recording our information anywhere . . . yet. You know at some point they’ll start scanning and tracking if they’re given the chance. But I don’t like to use the slippery slope argument in general, so I won’t use it here.

    I just go back to my same argument that someone with “evil” intentions is not going to show up at a checkpoint without ID and be happy to have additional scrutiny. And now if someone does forget their ID, which absolutely can happen, they’re going to be hassled greatly about whether they’re lying or not. I just don’t think it matters if they’re lying at all. If they don’t have an ID, put on the latex gloves and do what you have to do.

  17. CF, I’m with you on the ID/no ID thing, actually. I’m sure there is some administrative reason for the policy, but it seems absurd that somebody with ill intentions would think that simply showing up without an ID would somehow aid them in carrying out their mission. It would most certainly make it more difficult.

    As for the pre-registration, I agree that we should welcome tourists and their money, and we should make it as easy as possible for them to get here. However, I understand the basic rationale behind placing one more step between the passenger and the plane. I would imagine that somebody with a sophisticated terror plot would find a way to pre-register without raising red flags. Still, even if it’s only in a minute percentage (or fraction thereof) of cases, wouldn’t you rather a red flag go up before the passenger in question even leaves for airport, as opposed to after the plane leaves the ground (at which time, it might be too late to avoid an incident)? Perhaps I have too much faith in the government…

    This is a good debate, and it’s nice to see civil, mutually respectful online political discourse for a change. Nonetheless, I must leave now for ORD to catch my lovely 3.5-hour regional jet flight to San Antonio (think the Southwest commercial: “we now invite you to sit-back, relax and enjoy your 4-hour [commuter jet] flight”).

  18. Artie wrote: “They are not tracking where I’m going – they are only making sure that somebody with evil intentions doesn’t somehow steal my boarding pass and try to gain access to a “secured” area – granted, we all know that this is NOT 100% secure.”

    That’s the whole problem with ID checking. Say someone with evil intentions does, in fact, steal your BP (or, heaven forbid, print out a FAKE). He can get in line without an ID and be screened. TSA, of course, will know that he actually did lose his ID because the “extensive” search did not yield an ID on his person or in his belongings. Of course, he also went in a different line from you, so nobody knows that the same BP was used twice by two different people.

    And how do they know you don’t have evil intentions just because you have an ID? The 9/11 terrorists all had valid state ID’s. I could be a terrorist and I certainly have a valid DL. And if they’re not actually checking names against a list, then they have no way of knowing whether or not someone has evil intentions.

    Of course, said list (ie, the No Fly List) is ridiculously flawed anyway. I just don’t see how checking IDs is a security measure. I can see how it benefits the airlines and other businesses, to extend your bar analogy. As I recall, my ID was not checked the last time I went into a courthouse, although all my belongings were xrayed and I passed through a WTMD.

  19. You have a really good point about the crucial issue, security-wise, being whether a passenger is trying to bring something dangerous aboard an airplane (nail clippers, contact lens wetting solution, a toddler’s sippy cup being among the examples in TSA’s short history). The TSA’s latest HUH? decision is dressing up its screeners in “police-blue” shirts and official badges — presumbaly to give them an air of authority. See http://travel-babel.blogspot.com/2008/06/tsa-screeners-get-new-uniforms-and.html for more.

  20. As a brit who has been flying to the US two or three times a year for the past 20 or so years I have been waiting for a scheme where all the information I provide benefits me in some way. There seems to be nothing for the frequent visitor in the Homeland Security’s policies. The vast majority of the time I visit family who are resident in the US and yet I always get asked the same questions in the same surly manner (btw I think Homeland Security do a great job of putting off tourists). I am happy to share more personal information if it means that I get through immigration quicker and possibly with a smile from the officer. So, overall I would be fully in favor of registering information online if I get something out of it too. Is that too much to ask?

  21. @Daren, the registration won’t do any good to you. They already know who you are but ask you nonetheless. Registering will allow to double check, make meetings and place calls if your name, birthday and passport number etc. show up in some other list. Chances are this is not the case with you. The questions they ask you are the same I presume: why are you coming, for how long etc. They all to determine that you have no immigration intent but will return soon.

  22. That’s an interesting perspective, Daren S. But I would agree with Andy that this won’t change the attitude at all. It’s just going to add more burden on to you and other travelers. I suppose the only benefit is that you won’t need to shuffle for a pen to fill out the card on the flight? Ok, that’s a weak argument.

  23. Gobluetwo made an interesting point that got me thinking that there is some validity to the point that checking IDs is superfluous. His/her point about not having ID checked at the courthouse reminded me that when I served on a jury (was even Jury foreman – though it wasn’t as cool as on TV…but I digress), I didn’t have to show my ID to get past security. I did have to wear a generic “Juror #1” badge with the courtroom number on it, but I didn’t have to show my own ID. And when I reflected more on my own arguments that it is OK to let somebody who forgot their ID get through with enhanced screening, it got me thinking that it is pretty easy to make a fake ID. So, I think I want to concede the point about checking IDs and perhaps refocus the debate on what to do instead?

    Unlike a courthouse, if somebody gets their hand on my boarding pass after I check-in, how do we ensure they can’t get past security and onto a plane with it? I’m thinking the new Blackberry 3D barcodes that Continental is using. Seems to me you can implement a system similar to sporting events or the theatre where the barcode scanner will only allow that ticket to be used once. And it seems fairly easy to electronically invalidate an old barcode if by some weird reason one loses their blackberry before they get to security.

  24. Artie – Most airlines already do that. When you board, they usually scan your boarding pass and it will ring up an error if there are duplicates. This isn’t used everywhere on every airline, but it’s very widespread at this point. Of course, if the flight is full, then you’ll have one guy looking for a seat and that will be easy to catch as well.

  25. I agree that they are always looking out inconsistency of information when looking for those that are looking to stay on in the US and look for work illegally, but the good thing about data is that it helps establish behaviour patterns and establish likelihood of being an illegal worker. If you have been coming and going for many years and always returned within two weeks the likelihood is that you will continue to do so. If you are a first time visitor, young and from a less affluent country (i.e not UK) clearly the risk is higher and closer attention should be paid. I just feel that the immigration and boarders people should focus their efforts on those people and make things easier for the frequent visitor and tourists from mostly wealthy European nations.

    RE CF’s comment about form filling on the plane. It would definitely be a plus if completing a form online replaced the tedium of ticking No to being associated with genocide or Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945! Unfortunately I doubt it and will have to keep having to reach for a pen in the bottom of my flight bag!

  26. They should call the act creating the TSA, the full employment for mentally challenged law. Gee what would it be like to have a full time job where I all do is make people take off their shoes and confiscate their toothpaste?

    Its been seven years since 9/11 occurred. Its time to give up some of the paranoia that exists. Until Bush can prove that his actions have thwarted specific hijackings, I can’t accept the blind assertion that this heightened security policy is why we haven’t had any.

    This business about the visas is just stupid. These countries will all retaliate against the USA and it will interfere with trade and commerce we desperately need to prop up our dollar.

    One more reason to vote against the GOP this November.

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