Saturday, December 09, 2006


Disappearing the freedom to travel

I have still to write the definitive post on this topic, but from my perspective the greatest freedom that Americans are losing is the freedom to travel. The government's move to keep tabs on your butt is subtly orchestrated so that as each component of this freedom is lost, the loss is never so dramatic that it excites a problematic portion of the public.

Last week Michael Sniffen of the AP reported,

Without notifying the public, federal agents for the past four years have assigned to millions of international travelers computer-generated scores rating the risk they pose of being terrorists or criminals.

The travelers are not allowed to see or directly challenge these risk assessments, which the government intends to keep on file for 40 years.

Whenever the government is no longer required to justify itself in taking away your rights, the temptation becomes overwhelming to exercise that power for political rather than security purposes.

The scores are assigned to people entering and leaving the United States, including Americans, after computers assess their travel records, including where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered.

The program's existence was quietly disclosed in November when the government put an announcement detailing the Automated Targeting System, or ATS, for the first time in the Federal Register, a fine-print compendium of federal rules. Privacy and civil liberties lawyers, congressional aides and even law enforcement officers said they thought the system had been applied only to cargo.

How do you say "stupid" in legalese?

On January 23 a new rule will apply to Americans wishing to exit the United States—a passport will be required to fly. If the government decides not to issue you a passport, you stay home, drive or take the boat. The following year those routes will be cut off.

From the State Department's website—

  • Beginning January 23, 2007, ALL persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda will be required to present a valid passport, Air NEXUS card, or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document, or an Alien Registration Card, Form I-551, if applicable.
  • As early as January 1, 2008, ALL persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda by land or sea (including ferries), may be required to present a valid passport or other documents as determined by the Department of Homeland Security.

Barbara Correa offers this chipper assessment—

So, the next time you're traipsing through the airport with the feeling that you're being watched, relax. There isn't a darn thing you can do about it (well, except write your senators), and you'll probably never know one way or the other.

Which makes me wonder about the value of the Freedom of the Press, when you consider the press that we have.

Meanwhile, in South America...

Yahoo News reports (hat tip to Media Girl),

Nationals from all 12 South American nations will soon be able to travel freely throughout their region without needing visas, a regional foreign ministers summit in Chile has agreed.

The decision exempts the visa requirement for nationals from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Notice that citizens of that "totalitarian" democracy Venezuela are freer than ever to travel.

Related posts
Another reason I won't be supporting Hillary for President in 2008 (12/13/04)
If you're thinking of leaving the U.S., be careful (8/4/05)
First American graduate from Cuban medical school (8/26/05)
Religious activists and mainstream churches under government control (3/8/06)


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