More US travel restrictions

, posted: 16-Jun-2007 15:25

Travelling to the United States is already awkward, with all kinds of security measures before and after arrival. It's about to get worse though. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wants travellers on the Visa Waiver Programme to register over the Internet and fill in some sort of questionnaire 48 hours before flying to the US.

From what I can tell, the rationale behind this is an attempt at protecting the VWP. Chertoff says there are Islamist terrorists travelling on European passports; should there be a terrorist attack by a person travelling under the VWP, the US Congress is likely to remove it straight away.

Obviously, the US can set up whatever restrictions it likes for people wanting travel there. However, I'm at a loss to see how this measure is useful. Doesn't the US already get advance warning of people travelling there from the airlines? If not, surely the whole thing could be done when tickets are purchased, and not by adding to travel obstacles by forcing each and every VWP traveller to register online and fill out questionnaires?

Presumably, the information in the questionnaires will be checked and verified somehow, and used to determine whether or not the traveller can enter the US. If not, why ask for it? Such pre-vetting would be akin to getting a visa and I'm not sure I understand how the US will be able to tell from an online questionnaire if a person is an Islamist terrorist or not.

Then there are actual security concerns: the Internet and the computers connecting to it can hardly be called secure. Has the DHS factored in a trojan horse hijacking computers and filing masses of bogus pre-travel advisories? What happens if the information filled in by someone is captured by malware and sent to for instance terrorists?

The above and other measures introduced lately are quite insulting to US allies around the world that permit Americans to travel to their countries without visas and othersuch hoop-jumping. Chertoff and DHS are most certainly aware of this and that the security measures are hurting the image of the US overseas and make people reluctant to travel there as it's easy to get arrested and deported on small technicalities.

Making US travel even harder and less flexible will only reinforce this negative feeling of course. However, there's no point in lobbying for quid-pro-quo for US travellers, and make it harder for them too to travel overseas. If the US doesn't want people to come there for tourism or work, well, that's their loss. Besides, it'll do the Americans good to be able to travel to the Free World without restrictions. They might pick up a few hints and tips from there.

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