Monday, January 08, 2007

Reasons not visit America

Currently there are more than enough reasons not to visit or transit through the United States. Quite apart from the present administration's use of torture and violations of international law - reason enough to avoid the place simply on principle - there's also the intrusive, paranoid, and time-consuming border security. Currently, if you enter the US, even simply to pass through on the way to more desirable and legally respectable locations, you will be photographed and have two fingerprints taken. But according to the Guardian, all of that is about to get worse.

The most obvious change is that rather than having the prints of only two fingers taken, they will now take the whole set. But that's not the worst of it: your fingerprints will go into a Homeland Security database, along with those of suicide bombers and hijackers. So, tourists will be classed de facto as terrorists. But this doesn't just pose serious civil liberties issues within the United States - the database will be shared with other agencies and has no limits on international distribution, so your fingerprints may be made available to a host of other governments - including your own. Think about that for a minute: if a New Zealand, Australian or British politician or police official proposed fingerprinting the entire population and putting us in a central database to make the police's job easier, there would be an immense public outcry from people who think that the police should have some reasonable suspicion first, and that ordinary people going about their everyday business should not be subjected to intrusive surveillance or stuck on a database simply for administrative convenience. But our politicians won't have to propose that in the future, because they'll just be able to get our data from the Americans (at least if we are fool enough to travel there). American paranoia provides a convenient backdoor around our civil liberties.

But it gets worse. Not only do they want your fingerprints - they also want to be able to dig through your credit records and your email as well:

Britons already have their credit card details and email accounts inspected by the American authorities following a deal between the EU and the Department of Homeland Security. Now passengers face having all their credit card transactions traced when using one to book a flight. And travellers giving an email address to an airline will be open to having all messages they send and receive from that address scrutinised.

So travelling to the US is now a license to intercept your communications (which, given the way international intelligence cooperation works, means that they will then be shared back with domestic intelligence agencies). Warrants? What are they?

The British and European governments have already sold out their citizens to this regime, in secrecy, with apparently no objections. It will be interesting to see whether the New Zealand government raised any objection, or whether they meekly submitted to these ridiculous and intrusive demands.


I'm curious to know what would happen if a country (such as NZ) said "No" to requests for passenger manifests, cooperation in snooping into credit or email accounts etc. Would the US be prepared to simply ban all flights from that country?

Similarly, I understand that some of the domestic security "precautions" are because we have obligations under some treaty or other. Do they help at all? No. I doubt any of us can say that they do. And yet our government allows us to be pushed around.


Posted by Anonymous : 1/08/2007 10:02:00 AM

interestingly enough, this is all too little too late. while they may well be tracking everyone who comes into the country legitimately, and preventing another 11 sept, it's irrelevant.

the horrifying thing about the twin towers was that no one expected it... this would suggest that another attack on america will also come from an expected or untracked source.

once again, the US is demonstrating that the terrorists won. they're spending vast sums just like bin laden wanted them too, and all to achieve nothing but a false sense of security.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/08/2007 10:19:00 AM

One hopes that under current NZ law, the police et al. are unable to legally request that information from other governments. One hopes

Posted by Anonymous : 1/08/2007 11:34:00 AM

Unfortunately some of us have to go to the US. Even when I don't have to specifically go there, the Air NZ flight via HK is full nearly all the time.

What Air NZ should do is switch the San Fran flight to Vancouver. That way it'd be just as well connected for those who want to go to the US but avoid all the american crap for those who don't.

Posted by Rich : 1/09/2007 10:35:00 AM

Rich -

Air Canada markets its direct Sydney-Vancouver service specifically on the basis of "avoid Homeland Security". Not a great option for NZers, though, unless you are willing to put up with the time and expense of a return side-trip to Sydney.

Which does raise the issue of why Air NZ hasn't offered a direct service to Canada (or more specifically Vancouver ... about 9 hour direct flight to Heathrow if I recall). I did hear once that it is prohibited from doing so under a Star Alliance agreement. AirNZ pax must be transferred to Air Canada in the US before arrival in Canada. This is completely unverified, but interesting (and depressing) if true.

Posted by dc_red : 1/09/2007 10:53:00 AM