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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?