Proposed US Department of Homeland Security Visitor Identity Scheme To Further Place Financial Burden On Airlines & Alienate Foreign Visitors

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23/04/2008 – Proposed US Department of Homeland Security Visitor Identity Scheme To Further Place Financial Burden On Airlines & Alienate Foreign Visitors

Last week, on Tuesday the 15th of April, The US Department of Homeland Security (US DHS) announced a proposal that would require commercial airlines, as well as cruise line operators, to collect the fingerprints of departing international travelers. The US DHS wants this information submitted to them as soon as the passengers depart the United States.

Currently commercial airlines, and cruise ship operators, are required to transmit basic passenger biographical data (name, date of birth departure point, arrival point address) to the US DHS for the US DHS to be able cross reference no-fly lists. Of course there are stories of planes departing and being turned around in the air due to “no-fly” passengers boarding the flights. Under this new proposed rule the airlines operating in the United States, both domestic and foreign, would be required to both collect and transmit international passenger biometric data to the US DHS. The idea is to track not only who is entering the United States, but also who is exiting the United States.

What’s the problem with this? As I see it there are two independent problems with this new proposed ruling.

The first problem with this rule is one of civil liberties. I understand the need for Passport Control and the need for Visas to enter a country. These are ways of tracking who is entering a country. As criminals become more sophisticated (not just “terrorists,” but drug runners, counterfeiter, arms dealers, those on INTERPOL lists, etc) the need to take a fingerprint that matches the name/face on the passport is a good security measure. The need to take 10 fingerprints instead of a single fingerprint seems to be all smoke-and-mirrors, but an incoming fingerprint is a good security measure.

Now the process of taking fingerprints on departure is absurd. Whoever the US DHS was seeking to keep the public safe from has already entered the country! Taking fingerprints on departure is like slamming the barn door after the horses have stampeded into the field. Furthermore, are the airline counter agents to be considered agents of the government in this process? In being required to take fingerprints, will passengers be denied boarding if they refuse a fingerprint? Where and when will the prints be taken? At the start of your journey (which for me is often a small regional airport, operating with a single airline, all flying small turbo props) or at the international departure point? In a “post-security” zone of a mixed domestic/international airport? How will this even begin to be implemented? If the data is collected at the gate it can’t possibly be transmitted and reviewed prior to the flights departure………and if the flight has departed whoever the US DHS is looking for is already long gone.

The second problem with this rule is purely financial. Airlines are flagging financially. In the past few months scores of airlines have filed for bankruptcy protection or just gone out of business. With the skyrocketing costs of fuel airlines are curtailing spending everywhere they can. Under this new US DHS security scheme the airline and cruise operators will be required to cover the financial costs of implementing this new scheme. This estimated cost? US$2.7 billion! If the US DHS wants this new procedure implemented, and they really should reconsider the usefulness of this new procedure rather than playing a game of smoke-and-mirrors, they should cover the costs. Why saddle an already struggling industry that is vital the U.S. and Global economy on multiple levels with an extreme costs that they are not able to outright pay for.

Overall these new procedures and the new homeland security scheme in general will simply keep people from seeking to visit the United States. In a time when we should be embracing foreign visitors with our rapidly devaluing dollar and the need to bring foreign business and revenue into the country we should not be scaring people away from our airports.

As for the security procedures being pressed upon the cruise industry, I have to ask one question. Do a lot of fleeing INTERPOL criminals depart the US on slow cruise ships?

Happy Flying!



  1. Hey Fish, hope you’re well.

    Interesting to hear a reasoned voice from inside America. Travel really is the great equalizer and in my opinion, your comments here are on point. I just got back from a few days shooting in LA and frankly, I’ve had it. The level of suspicion and hassle I get every-time I travel to the US just causes more grief and uncertainty than I’m willing to accept. I mean, I understand and respect the need for security but, I’m not willing to subject myself to trick questions, searches and scrutiny and I’m certainly not willing to give my DNA, fingerprints or eyes to a foreign government. If my country wants to implement a background check system (similar to what I want through to get a handgun) and then issue a passport stamp that says I’m no threat, and the US is willing to accept that, maybe there’s a solution there somewhere.

    No more fishing trips to Montana and Wyoming, no more Vegas weekends and no more shopping trips to Seattle for us. I’ve even turned down travel assignments there in the past six months. Passed on a magazine assignment in Miami in favor of a travel pub job in Mexico. Between the war on photography and the war on terror, it’s not worth the trouble.

    The current need to secure borders and prevent terrorism is understandable and maybe even necessary but, at what cost? and how much is too much? Hopefully a common ground will be found soon.

    Shameless plug, I blog about travel to the US once in a while so, check it out if you get a chance.

    On another note, shame about Oasis, cheap prices. Got any tips on cheap airlines to Asia now?



  2. Dan

    I agree with your statements. There needs to be an easier way.

    There is a quote that is often stated, but rarely listen to, that maybe we need to start listening to:
    “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” – Benjamin Franklin, 1775

    ……… for low cost travel to Asia? I am working on that. I need to be back in Hong Kong in three weeks

    For those of you interested in Dan’s Blog you can check it out here:

    Happy Flying!


  3. To give some idea of how absolutely and completely pointless this would be, and indeed most if not all of the measures currently in place are, is the story of a Chinese man Nai Yin Xue. Strangely enough it received next to no coverage outside NZ.

    Mr Xue murdered his wife in Auckland New Zealand last year and travelled to Australia with his daughter. He abandoned her at a railway station and fled to the USA.

    He was able to enter the USA unhindered, despite being on the run and was then able to remain at large for six (6!) months before being caught by suspicious civilians.

    So, even though the DHS had his 1-name, 2- recent photographs, 3- fingerprints and 4- a heap of other background information, they were totally unable to track him down. Imagine if he’d actually been a threat to the country !

    It strikes me as absolutely ludicrous that they are considering extending their powers when it’s fairly clear (and I’m not the only one saying it) that they cannot fulfill their current responsibilities.

  4. I feel the same way!! I have dual citizenship for the States and Norway, but I never tell anybody while I’m flying anymore because of the grief it’s caused me in the past. “No, I don’t have two passports”, yadda yadda yadda.

    This just sounds like another pointless process that the government is trying to promote to make it appear as if they’re doing something, when they’re just creating more heartache for everyone.

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