Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I was born in the backseat of a greyhound bus, rolling down highway 41
-Allman Brothers, "Ramblin Man"

Europeans love to laugh at Americans for how so few of us have a passport. The State Department reports that only 37% of Americans have a passport, as compared to the British who own passports at a rate of around 70%. How provincial, how quaint, they say.

In response, Americans chuckle and point out how their entire country would fit comfortably in a few of our states, and how all of Europe fits in the US without touching the borders. If you want to go somewhere different in Europe, you have to cross borders. In the US, you can stay in the same state and go from deserts to rain forests to mountains to the ocean in a few hours.

Still, after 9/11 the US government went nuts and insisted that people had to have a passport to get back across the border from Mexico or Canada, no matter who you are. How this is supposed to stop terrorists is anybody's guess but in those days, being seen doing something was a political imperative to the politicians. Its more useful these days than it used to be.

The problem is, its a bit of a pain. You can't just get a passport in your home town, you have to go to a big city. It takes a long time, costs quite a bit, and is only useful once in a while, plus it has to be updated regularly.

And lately, the State Department has decided they ought to make it harder. Edward Hasbrouk at Consumer Traveler reports:
The U.S. Department of State is proposing a new Biographical Questionnaire for some passport applicants: The proposed new Form DS-5513 asks for all addresses since birth; lifetime employment history including employers’ and supervisors names, addresses, and telephone numbers; personal details of all siblings; mother’s address one year prior to your birth; any “religious ceremony” around the time of birth; and a variety of other information. According to the proposed form, “failure to provide the information requested may result in … the denial of your U.S. passport application.”
One of the questions on the proposed questionnaire:
“Please describe the circumstances of your birth including the names (as well as address and phone number, if available) of persons present or in attendance at your birth.”
Well, I don't recall, having been a baby at the time. To get a passport, they want you to provide phone numbers of your employers, information about siblings, and so on. Look I understand a desire for security, but with the groping perverts in the TSA and this, its clearly gone too far.

I don't even rightly recall all the places I've worked, or when, or who the boss was, and have no method of contacting most of them. Some of the places I work for shut down and are no longer in existence. I don't remember all the dozen or so addresses I've lived at, or when. I can't even recall where my mom lived before I was born, just somewhere in Denver.

This is just absurd, and they have to know that at the State Department, don't they? I can kind of understand the use of this to specifically and definitely pinpoint the exact person with a passport, but it also seems like a useful way to build a good government profile tracking peoples' history and movements over the years as well. Do we really want them to have that information so easily?

Its not like they can't get it, but they'd have to dig at it, and this would just hand the information over on a silver platter. And for what, a passport? I don't even want one, I just thought it would be nice to have some time. If this is what I have to go through, I expect I'll hardly be alone in just not getting one.

1 comment:

Philip said...

In some ways, that's far in excess as far information that you have to provide even for an SBI (Special Background Investigation) to get a top secret clearance.

Then again, perhaps State is trying to go the cheap-route and not have to perform the extensive background checks.

I'm (ironically) surprised they don't also charge you for a credit check.