Sunday, 11 December 2011
The Amazing Race 19, Episode 11
Panama City (Panama) - Atlanta (Georgia)
Ironically, the final episode in which The Amazing Race 19 returned home to the USA from Panama was broadcast on the same day that Manuel Noriega, the dictator deposed and kidnapped to imprisonment in Florida during the US invasion of Panama in 1989 (a story perhaps best told by David Harris in Shooting the Moon: The True Story of an American Manhunt Unlike Any Other, Ever) returned home to Panama (and continued imprisonment there) at the end of his 22-year involuntary exile.
"The Amazing Race 20" is being filmed now (let me know if you spot the racers or the production crew!) and will be broadcast in the USA in the spring of 2012.
The US version of the The Amazing Race always starts and ends in the USA, and is open only to US citizens. The concept has been franchised to other countries and regions, for citizens of those places, but most of the other versions of the race, such as "The Amazing Race Asia" and "The Amazing Race Latinoamerica", travel only within those parts of the world.
To be fair to the producers of the TV shows, that's not just because audiences in the USA or elsewhere don't want to see "foreigners" in the cast. Having non-US citizens in the US version of the race would greatly complicate the producers' task, and could lead to audiences being disappointed if a popular team were eliminated because they were denied entry to some country on the route, or delayed at immigration, because of their citizenship.
Even if a non-US citizen made it into one of the final three teams racing back to the finish in the USA, the extra time that it takes for non-US citizens to clear US immigration, at that critical point in the final leg, would almost certainly keep them from the million-dollar first prize.
Immigrants to the US know, but native-born US citizens often don't realize, just how much easier it is to travel with a US passport than as a citizen of almost any other country. (Yes, there are exceptions, but they are few, and include only a small percentage of the world's population.) It's hard for citizens of most countries in Latin America, Asia, or especially Africa to get visas to visit the USA, the Schengen zone in Europe, or other wealthy countries. It's easy for US citizens to take our privileged position as travellers for granted.
Even in some other countries whose citizens can now travel the world fairly easily, memories of past surveillance and control of travel are much closer to the surface than in the USA -- and opposition to current US travel surveillance and control schemes has been much greater.
This has been most obviously true in Germany and Austria, where the control and surveillance of people's movement by the Nazis, the Stasi (East Germany), the Berlin Wall, and the Iron Curtain (with Austria as one of its most important front-line states) have not been forgotten.
Much of my work for the last decade, even before I started working with the Identity Project on travel-related human rights issues, has concerned the use of airline reservations or Passenger Name Record (PNR) data as a tool for government monitoring of travellers, compilation of "travel history" dossiers linked to our identities (and access to the dossiers already compiled by travel companies and other businesses), and control of our movements on the basis of our identities and those linked dossiers.
While the more visible intrusions into our liberties, such as the laying-on-of-hands by TSA checkpoint staff, have been lightning rods for public reaction against the growing homeland security state, there's been no significant outrage or even debate about the US government's less visible, but more fundamental, assumption that they are entitled to record and control where we go.
Neither the Bush nor the Obama Administration has bothered to ask Congress to approve this "domestic Guantanamo" of individualized files about the lawful travels of tens of millions of US citizens; a permission-based regime of travel controls (with a default of, "No"); and no-fly orders issued in secret, by administrative fiat, without possibility of judicial review even when they pertain to US citizens.
But neither has Congress -- happy not to be held responsible for whatever happens, one way or the other -- demanded a chance to debate or vote on any of this.
In Europe, on the other hand, there's more public awareness of US government use of PNR data than there is in the USA. And there was extensive debate in the European Parliament about whether PNR data from the EU should be included in these US schemes, even before the new Lisbon Treaty reorganizing the EU gave the EP formal veto power over the proposed agreement with the US on DHS access to European PNR data.
My visit to Europe this past October began in Brussels, where I was invited to give a briefing to European Parliament staff and advisors hosted by Eva Lichtenberger, Austrian Green Party Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and member of the EP Transportation Committee (TRAN):
Then it was on to Berlin, where I saw the former Berlin Wall being replaced, on almost exactly the same site, with new US "Homeland Security" perimeter fortifications.
On one side of the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall has come down and there are no armed guards in sight, even with the Reichstag (once again Germany's parliament building) just a block away.
Only a line of bricks in the street and plaza (here making a right-angled turn at the left edge of the bike lane on the street that passes in front of the gate) shows the path of the barrier formerly maintained and patrolled by armed East German border guards:
On the other side of the gate, a new barrier with a new set of armed US guards and sentry boxes closes off the plaza from the area in front of the new US Embassy to Germany. The columns at the right edge of the photo below, where the new US barriers begin, are the end of one wing of the Brandenburg Gate:
Later that afternoon, a few blocks away on the other side of the Reichstag, I had an hour-long meeting with Germany's Minister of Justice, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, and several of her aides and advisors:
With Frau Minister Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and Austrian independent MEP Martin Ehrenhauser
The Bundesministerium der Justiz is located in what was once East Berlin, on the site of the East German government's international press center. Like much of Berlin, the building was gutted and completely rebuilt after reunification, and only the facade remains original. But it was behind that facade that the government announced, at the end of a press conference on 9 November 1989 (I was in Paris, and arrived in Germany for the first time a few days later) that East Germans would be allowed to cross any of the country's borders -- "effective immediately". That was the end of the restrictions on travel that, I've been told, were for many East Germans the most-hated aspect of the old regime.
As the Ministry's translator was escorting us out of the building after our meeting with the Minister, she walked us through the memorial to Reisefreiheit -- freedom to travel -- on the ground floor on the site of that historic announcement. The building isn't open to the general public, but the installation by Ulrich Schroder, "Die Verkundung der Reisefreiheit" ("The Proclamation of Freedom of Travel"), is visible through the windows from the public sidewalk on Mohrenstrasse:
The next day -- after an evening event at one of Berlin's foremost hacker-spaces, the c-base -- I accompanied MEP Ehrenhauser to Vienna, where he and his staff organized several briefings for journalists and activists.
At one of those meetings, an older gentleman reminded his fellow Austrians of how innocuous it might have seemed for Jews, for example, with "nothing to hide", to have their then-legal religion identified in government records in the early 1930s.
Which of the PNR data now being mined by the US and other governments as the basis for no-fly decisions -- telephone and credit card numbers, whether you asked for a Kosher or Halal meal, who you shared your hotel room with and whether you asked for one bed or two -- will someday in the unpredictable future, as the limits of what is tolerated change, become the basis for action against you?
In late November, after I returned to the US, the Identity Project published the complete text of the proposed US-EU agreement on DHS access to PNR data, which the European Commission was still keeping secret and allowing MEPs to read only in a sealed room where they weren't allowed to make copies or take notes. That prompted another wave of negative publicity in the European press, especially the German-language press. There was more criticism of the proposed EU-US agreement from European politicians, especially from Germany and Austria, and from a coalition of European (again, especially Austrian and German) and US civil liberties and human rights organizations.
This week the Council of the EU will vote on whether to approve the proposed agreement. If, as expected, the Council approves the proposal (the German and Austrian governments, particularly their Ministries of Justice, reportedly have reservations but probably don't have enough votes to prevent Council approval), it will go to the European Parliament for debate and a vote in January or February on whether to ratify it. How that vote will go, especially in the face of an unprecedented US lobbying campaign in Brussels and Strasbourg, remains unclear.
I'm pleased to have played some role in helping inform European opposition to these attacks on everyone's freedom. I'm glad that European activists and politicians are doing their part to try to keep us free. But these are fundamentally US government initiatives that are being globalized, and what's most needed is for freedom-loving US citizens to exercise the rights that we still have, and demand that Congress and the President put an end to secret dossiers about our travels and secret decisions, each time we want to fly on a common carrier, about whether to give the airline "permission" to let us on board.
Not until we speak out and demand action, here in the USA, will the DHS Automated Targeting System files about us follow the files of the Stasi and the SS into the dustbin of history. And not until they are destroyed will the potential for abuse of these files be ended.
[Update: On 12 December 2011 the Council of the EU voted to approve the proposed PNR agreement with the US. Not having enough votes to block the deal, Germany and Austria abstained from the vote. Now the proposal will go to the European Parliament for a vote in January or February of 2012.]Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 11 December 2011, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)