Tuesday, 12 October 2004

Coalition opposes restrictions on travel freedom and privacy

Congressional debate on bills purporting to “implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission” has bogged down in disputes between the different bills passed by the House and the Senate, and over their provisions to legalize in the USA what is being called, in Orwell-speak, extraordinary rendition , by which is meant deporting, extraditing, or simply kidnapping people to send them to countries where they are likely to be tortured .

As discussed in my analysis of an earlier Senate bill, S. 2774 , none of these bills can properly be described as measures to implement the 9/11 Commission report . In particular, they all are directly contrary to the Report’s final overall “Recommendation: The burden of proof for retaining a particular governmental power should be on the executive, to explain (a) that the power actually materially enhances security and (b) that there is adequate supervision of the executive’s use of the powers to ensure protection of civil liberties. If the power is granted, there must be adequate guidelines and oversight to properly confine its use.”

The bills passed by the Senate on 6 October 2004, S.2845, the “National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004”, and by the House of Representatives on 8 October 2004, H.R.10, the, “9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act”, have much more in common than the minor differences between them that have now been referred to a House-Senate conference committee. Both bills go far beyond the earlier McLain-Lieberman bill, S. 2774, in their proposed encroachments on civil liberties, including the rights of travellers.

The bill passed by the House is perhaps the more explicit of the two bills in its provisions for identification and surveillance of travellers.

Subtitle A, Section 3001 of the House bill would make it “unlawful for any citizen of the United States to depart from or enter, or attempt to depart from or enter, the United States unless the citizen bears a valid United States passport”. Among other effects, this would eliminate passport-free travel to and from Canada and Mexico by USA citizens. Perhaps more importantly, it directly violates Article 13, clause (2), of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights , which recognizes that, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country,” with no mention of passports. Passports were originally intended as a device to facilitate travel, and should not be turned into a requirement for, or a means to restrict, travel.

Subtitle B of the House bill, “Identity Management Security”, would establish an integrated national birth, death, and identity registry and de facto national identity document system. To the extent these identity credentials would be required for domestic travel within the USA, that requirement would appear to violate Article 13, clause (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state,” again with no mention of required credentials.

Subtitle C, “Targeting Terrorist Travel”, would actually target all travellers. In particular, Section 3081 would require a study of the possible “Creation of a database containing information on the lifetime travel history of each foreign national or United States citizen who might seek to enter the United States or another country at any time.”

These proposals for identification, surveillance, and control of travellers have promoted an unprecedented response: a joint letter sent to Congress on 4 October 2004 by more than 40 USA and international organizations constituting “a broad and diverse coalition of state and national organizations who actively support privacy, civil liberties and immigration rights.”

Perhaps more than any other document to date, this coalition letter indicates the extent to which, over the last 18 months, travel has come to be recognized as a core issue for privacy, civil liberties, data protection, and surveillance:

Identification Requirements and Limits on Travel — … [W]e oppose actions taken in response to the Commission Report that would create a national identification system in word or effect. The integration of secure identity cards with interconnected databases raises substantial privacy risks that will require new legislation and new forms of oversight. Privacy enhancing techniques that minimize the collection and use of personally identifiable information should also be considered. Significant errors have been found in both the no-fly watchlists and the automatic selectee system. This is a particularly serious problem for U.S. persons who travel within the United States. Recent reports that a U.S. Senator and Member of Congress were detained due to these passenger screening measure begs the question, “how are ordinary citizens faring?”

Federal law should expressly prohibit profiling of citizens or groups based on race, citizen’s country of origin, ethnicity or religious beliefs. We support efforts to target individuals who may be carrying weapons or materials that threaten the safety of air travel. This is a more effective security technique than profiling or data mining. When considering the application of biometric features into identification documents, Congress should consider their privacy and civil liberty implications. There should be an independent evaluation of how best to operate these screening systems and still safeguard basic rights.

A properly designed identification systems or travel systems to ensure security of the borders should not provide the basis for routine identification within the United States. Therefore we caution against the establishment of travel checkpoints within the United States that would require individuals to prove their identity to gain access to public transportation. Such proposal would conflict with our basic rights to freedom of movement and civil liberties. Furthermore, citizens who do not possess these documents should not be barred from travel, access to federal benefits, or be denied any citizenship rights.

The recognition by such a broad coalition of the right to travel as a core element of a free people and a free society is a milestone to celebrate. Now it’s time to build on this consensus by moving from the defense of our rights as travellers against attacks like the present Congressional initiatives, to the advancement of travellers’ right through the introduction and enactment of an affirmative Federal travel privacy law applicable to airlines, CRS’s , and other travel companies as well as the government.

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 12 October 2004, 07:29 ( 7:29 AM)
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