From January 12, 2009, citizens from such infamous terrorist hotbeds as New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Western Europe and several other nations aroun
October 20, 2008

customs_10313_0.jpg From January 12, 2009, citizens from such infamous terrorist hotbeds as New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Western Europe and several other nations around the world ordinarily covered under the Visa Waiver Program will be required to submit an application for authorization via the Internet before they will be allowed to enter the United States.

Bad enough the Brits and European nationals have been compelled to disclose sensitive data when flying into the United States, i.e., personal information about their racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, and data concerning the health and even sex life, to the Department of Homeland Security which ‘may be used by the DHS in exceptional cases.’ And we’ve recently seen examples of what the NSA has considered to be ‘exceptional cases’, swapping recordings of intimate phone calls between innocent Americans around the office canteen like you and I might share an Internet joke.

Bad enough that even travelers in transit who are not even stopping in the US are treated like potential criminals and terrorists by airport security. Even worse that passenger’s laptops, mobile phones or any other data storage device can be confiscated indefinitely by federal agents without any suspicion of wrongdoing, the information copied and shared with other agencies or even ‘private entities’ for language translation, data decryption or any other reason. Business travelers in particular, rather than dark skinned young men from unfriendly Middle Eastern countries, seem to be the main targets of confiscation.

Those passengers who have to make trips to the States are increasingly turning to blogs advising on how to encrypt their hard drives, and shipping them back and forth via FedEx but not declaring the contents as a hard drive because that ‘may arouse suspicions’. If asked, lie and say it’s some cheap-sounding trinket. Or even, if you must travel with your computer, consider carrying a pink laptop with Hannah Montana stickers on it to make it less interesting to airport officials.

This, then, is what we are reducing ordinary, innocent travellers to – smuggling their personal belongings in and out of the States like forged papers to cross Gestapo guarded borders.

Not unsurprisingly, tourism in America has been on a steep decline, the nation's international tourism balance of trade dropping more than 70 percent from 1995 to 2005, and showing no sign of recovery; quite the reverse.

Now, when Kiwis and Ozzies and all the rest of the world click on the handy website to apply for permission to visit the US, it pops up a little notice explaining just what rights you are giving away for the privilege:

This Department of Homeland Security (DHS) computer system and any related equipment is subject to monitoring for administrative oversight, law enforcement, criminal investigative purposes, inquiries into alleged wrongdoing or misuse, and to ensure proper performance of applicable security features and procedures. As part of the monitoring, DHS may acquire, access, retain, intercept, capture, retrieve, record, read, inspect, analyze, audit, copy and disclose any information processed, transmitted, received communicated, and stored within the computer system. If monitoring reveals possible misuse or criminal activity, notice of such may be provided to appropriate supervisory personnel and law enforcement officials. DHS may conduct these activities in any manner without further notice. By clicking OK below or by using this system, you consent to the terms set forth in this notice.

Translation: We can do whatever the hell we want, and snoop into anything you’ve got on your computer. You don’t like it, don’t even apply to come to the United States.

Which is exactly what more and more people around the world are choosing to do. My worry, as an ex-pat? That at some point those countries we’ve long considered to be our ‘friends’ will get sick and tired of their citizens being treated like criminals and terrorists instead, and kick out anyone holding an American passport. On the other hand, they may just take pity on me and offer me refugee status…

Can you help us out?

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