Friday, 18 August 2006

What's on the horizon in travel security/surveillance?

I’ve spent a lot of time this week answering questions from other journalists about every aspect of air travel, from the most significant to the most mundane. Here’s a sampling:

Anti-terror hassles may keep travelers off planes (by Chris Welsch, Minneapolis Star Tribune Sunday travel section, 13 August 2006):

Even considering the thousands of deaths in the 9/11 attacks, flying is still statistically safer than driving. Driving to the Mall of America has more potential hazards than flying to Los Angeles: More than 40,000 people die each year in the United States in auto accidents. The annual average toll for air accidents is about 200. Yet the amount of attention given to the threat of air fatalities is much higher.

“That’s natural because humans have an instinctive fear of heights and falling,” said Edward Hasbrouck, author of “The Practical Nomad,” a guidebook for frequent travelers. The emotional impact of fear often trumps the comforting knowledge of facts, he said. “The most common cause of injury in air travel is bags falling out of the overhead bin on people’s heads. But that’s not something we worry about.”

What to do when terrorists strand you (by Brigitte Yuille,, 13 August 2006):

Security at the nations’ airports has been intensified as a result of what’s being called the “London liquid-bomb plot,” leaving many travelers uncertain at best and stranded at worst.

This event has created major delays, particularly at international airports, and airlines are making various schedule changes that have greatly impacted customers’ trips.

Many customers are tempted to just cancel their flights, but travel expert Edward Hasbrouck warns that this won’t accomplish a thing.

“It reduces the chances that you will be protected by the airline if they’re making changes,” Hasbrouck says.

Most major airline companies are trying to make up for the inconveniences by temporarily changing ticket fees and baggage policies for affected passengers….

Customers who have purchased travel insurance are encouraged to read the fine print before heading on their trips or to call the insurance company if they are already en route….

You might be able to get reimbursed, depending on the insurance terms. But don’t take advantage of the situation or it may lead to your claim being completely denied.

“If you say, ‘I’m forced to stay here, so I’m going to stay in a five-star hotel,’ you may get a rude shock, because they will say that was an excessive expense,” says Hasbrouck.

Security measures will impact passengers (by Derrik J. Lang, Associated Press asap, 11 August 2006):

Working together, the U.S. government and airlines will collect more data on passengers than ever before through techniques like biometric technology (recognizing humans through such features as fingerprints and irises) and psychoanalysis (a way detect abnormal human behavior, such as body language and speech patterns).

“The goal is to make this as invisible as possible,” explains Edward Hasbrouck, author of “The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World.” “For example, instead of being asked to present your passport for inspection, your passport will have a remotely readable RFID chip in it so that it can be scanned without you’re even knowing that’s happened.”

Airport security measures hardly impact store sales (by Fred Minnick, Fast Casual restaurant news, 15 August 2006):

But what do these increased security measures mean to the airport restaurants such as Bakery & Cafe, Au Bon Pain and Panda Express, and for major airport contract feeders like Aramark and Delaware North? Edward Hasbrouck, author of the Practical Nomad by Avalon Travel, said airport restaurants will greatly benefit from these new restrictions. He said people will show up earlier just so they can eat.

“If people are not allowed to take food or beverages through security check points, they are more likely to buy from beyond checkpoints,” Hasbrouck said….

Hasbrouck said the greatest impact will be felt by the international businesspeople and travelers. Since the Transportation Security Administration banned carry-on fluids, duty-free sales have slumped from Singapore to the Cayman Islands. The Nuance Group, which runs duty-free shops in most Canadian airports, said sales are down almost 75 percent.

“How much do these restrictions discourage people from traveling here from Germany or other countries? That is imponderable,” Hasbrouck said. “But one thing is for sure, we have a lot of competition to draw international travelers. It’s a big world out there.”

The most significant question, though, is “What’s next?”

Not surprisingly, governments in the USA, the United Kingdom , and to a generally lesser extent elsewhere have used the latest events as the basis for a renewed push toward what I’ve been warning about for years: the government-mandated conversion of commercial travel business-porcess automation and reservations systems into a pervasive infrastructure of involuntary identification of travellers and logging of their movements.

Three different USA Federal regulatory proposals toward this end are currently pending:

  • The US-VISIT proposal (71 Federal Register 42605-42611, docket number DHS 2005-0037; comments due by 28 August 2006) would extend the fingerprinting, photographing, and logging of lifetime personal travel histories to tourists entering for short visits without visas, permanent resident of the USA (green card holders), and almost all other non-USA citizens, not just those for whom the USA requires visas .

  • The Western Hemishere Travel Initiative or “WHTI” proposal (71 Federal Register 46155-46174, docket number CBP 2006-0097; comments due by 25 September 2006) would require almost everyone crossing international borders between the USA and Canada, Mexico, the Caribean, and Latin America — even citizens of the USA — to have a passport for air travel effective 8 January 2007, and for land border crossings effective 1 January 2008.

  • The international Advanced Passenger Information System or “APIS” proposal (71 FR 40035-40048, docket number USCBP-2005-0003; comments deadline extended to 12 October 2006) would forbid airlines to allow an person — again, including citizens of the USA — to board a flight or load their luggage onto any flight to, from, or through the airpace of the USA without first requiring them to provide identifying information and without obtaining express permission from the government for that specifc person to travel (according to procedures which remain completely secret and bound by no publicly-disclosed rules) at least 15 minutes to an hour before the plane leaves the gate, . In recent responses to questions from Congress (see page 6 of the PDF), the Government Accountability Office says that this international APIS system — compulsory ID, a presumptive prohibition on travel, and a complete absence of substantive or procedural due process — is intended as a model for the (thoroughly discredited) Secure Flight passenger identification, control, and surveillance system still under development for domestic flights within the USA. Perceptions of the international APIS proposal are especially divided, as exemplified by the contrast between the headlines on the stories this week about it in the New York Times (“Plot Shows Need for More Passenger Data, Officials Say”) and the London Sunday Times (“Air delays grow as US demands more security”).

I’m preparing formal responses to each of these proposals for The Identity Project , and will post them as a model for others who want to file their own comments with the agencies responsible for these attackes on travellers’ civil liberties and human rights, as well as the imposition of billions of U.S. dollars in costs of compliance that will ultimately all be passed on to travellers.

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 18 August 2006, 19:10 ( 7:10 PM)
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