Europeans and other potential enemies of the US are to be forced to deposit their personal details on the Department of Homeland Security’s computer system 72 hours before they get anywhere near the place.
The new rules will apply to citizens of the UK, and other countries whose citizens can travel to the US under the “visa waiver program”, from January next year. The prime motivation for the scheme is increased concern in Washington that European grown terrorists can exploit the visa waiver program to get into the US and wreak havoc.
The plan comes a year after Europe expressed concern that US proposals to impose a 48 hour preregistration period for visa free travel would have played havoc with business people making last minute commercial trips to the US. The US has clearly taken these considerations on board, and decided to up the pre-reg period to 72 hours.
According to reports, registrations made under the scheme will be valid for two years, allowing multiple entries to the US. Non PC-owning travellers will be able to register through travel agents.
Nevertheless, there are concerns that the scheme will do little to speed entry into the US. According to the FT, Susan Ginsburg of the Migration Policy Institute, expressed concern that no pilots had been conducted and that the move would increase pressure on the creaking US immigration system.
Of more concern to privacy minded Europeans there’s also no clue as to what will happen to non-US citizen’s data once it finds its way into the State Department and Department of Homeland Security Systems.
Clearly, details will be checked against watch lists. However, Europeans will no doubt be concerned that their information will be dispatched to a big data warehouse where it will be mined into oblivion. Previously, the consensus was that the little paper entry cards you filled out on arrival in the US were sent to a physical warehouse and consigned to oblivion.
Apart from unease over the amount of data US authorities will be collecting about other countries’ citizens – the vast bulk of whom will have committed no crime other than wanting to go to Disneyland – there will also be concerns that the immigration database will be a potential goldmine for ID thieves.
The perceived invasiveness of the US scheme will likely dissuade some European travelers from actually crossing the Atlantic. In which case they can stay at home and grumble about the EU’s own efforts to tighten up entry procedures.
The US scheme - electronic travel authorization scheme - has been dubbed ESTA for short. Why? Because someone in Washington realized that ETA is a terrorist group. There’s no clue as to what the S stands for. Slow perhaps? Or simply "sod off". ®