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New online personal data submission required for some travelers to the US

Posted by Barb on 30 Jun 2008 at 04:31 GMT

News since this editorial went to press: A new rule requires electronic submission of personal information prior to travel to the United States, for citizens of Visa Waiver Program countries (such as much of Europe, Japan, Singapore and others). This submission will be optional starting in August 2008, and mandatory in January 2009. There is a comment period for 60 days starting June 9, for anyone who would like to argue for changes to the new rule. (For full information on the rule and how to comment on it, see http://edocket.access.gpo...)

The traveler will need to provide the same information that is currently collected upon arrival in the United States: name, birth date, passport information, travel information - and questions including communicable diseases, arrests and convictions for certain crimes, and past history of visa revocation or deportation. The Department of Homeland Security argues that this will improve security, and save money for travelers who otherwise would be stopped at the border.

This rule is simply changing the time of gathering information which is currently already being gathered. However, this may present us with an opportunity to comment on the broader question of implementation of security screening of individuals. Given the stories we have heard from some ISCB members who have been stopped at the border, and in some cases inappropriately turned away, perhaps this is an opportunity for us to ask for improved processes. The Department of Homeland Security states that the processing of the entered data will be "fully automated" and will include checks against databases of "known terrorists". As someone whose 10 year old son's name appeared on the no-fly list, I know personally that those automated checks cast a needlessly (dare I say incompetently) broad net. We've heard stories of ISCB members from countries requiring a visa who were flagged for additional security checks because they work in computational biology. Instead of flagging scientists as potential dangers, the US government should be finding ways to expedite their admission.

At any rate, I encourage individuals to comment on this new policy, both here at PLoS CB using the comment feature, but especially to the Department of Homeland Security.