The saga of a Cisco employee in California and an entrepreneur in Massachussetts, in a Wired feature, sends a shudder through this international traveller even though I am white, female, middle-aged, have a name that sounds like my ancestors might have been Christian and I was born with an American passport. Correction on that last point: like many Americans, I had no idea what a passport was until I was in my late twenties and needed one to visit Europe. The number of passport requests in the US has rose sharply in fiscal 2007, which ended 30 September, so this is gradually changing, but in 2005, the figure for passport holders was still only 21% of the population.
The issue in the Wired article is how you get off a government list once you’re on one, not whether or not the list should exist in the first place or how effective it is, although Wired wisely undertakes to answer the second one.
In the case of both people in the feature they have routinely been
taken aside at airports, searched thoroughly and in general had to go
through time-consuming and frightening travel delays, mainly in the US
as a result of international travel. The article quotes The Asian Law
Caucus, which gives some sensible tips to international travellers who may prompt suspicion.
It’s remarkably easy to fall into this category, even if you are not on
a list and you have a US passport. I have found for the past four years
that I am frequently pulled aside for additional checks at US airports.
A kind official finally explained in Kansas City that it’s because I
buy my international flight tickets in Switzerland but I buy cheaper
fare internal flights through family and friends in the US. On a recent
flight I bought the entire ticket outside the US: no problem, for a
Travel to the Midwest in the US used to take me 14 hours door to door
but it now takes 22 and I’ve had my computer opened and been asked
about files and my Internet search history. I’m now very careful about
what I take when I travel to the US, in terms of what’s on my computer
and in my camera. I don’t intend to take on the US government’s
anti-terrorism policies and I don’t want further delays when I’m tired
from overseas travel. Read those Wired/Asian Caucus tips, if you travel with electronic devices.