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New rules signed into law this month by the U.S. government threaten to complicate international travel to and from the United States. According to regulations set to take effect within six months, carriers must provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials with passenger information at least 30 minutes and as early as 72 hours prior to departure. Current regulations require airlines to provide passenger data no later than 15 minutes after take-off.
The new rules would mainly impact travelers not required to obtain a visa prior to their trip to the United States. Much of the information requested by the U.S. government already is required for a visa, and a 72-hour processing delay could eliminate the benefits of being from a country included in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. That program was designed to facilitate travel and business between the U.S. and its closest allies.
"When the rule takes effect, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will perform watch list checks against this verified passenger data in order to determine whether someone who is on that flight should not be allowed to take off in the airplane," said DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff during a 9 Aug press briefing. "This will eliminate the potential for flight diversions or deplaning due to watch list concerns."
Chertoff added that DHS strives to create "a single solution for screening passengers" via the Transportation Security Administration's Secure Flight program. "TSA will eventually assume watch list matching for both domestic and international flights under this program," he said.
As part of Secure Flight, foreign nationals also would be subject to a security program called the Automated Targeting System. Intended to identify potential security threats, the ATS database uses information from credit card companies and other commercial data, and compares it to airline records. It was rejected for domestic travel due to privacy concerns, but will be used for international travelers, Chertoff said. The information will be retained for 15 years in a federal database.
Jerome Drevon-Barreaux, global travel manager for Paris-based systems integration and consulting provider Capgemini, said the new security regulations have raised concerns in Europe.
"This new measure, on top of all the other ones already in place, is really disturbing. Asking business travelers to plan their trip at least 72 hours in advance is unrealistic," said Drevon-Barreaux, who also serves as European regional chair for the Association of Corporate Travel Executives. "A lot of travelers would actually--and unfortunately--book their air tickets at the last minute."
Beyond the inconvenience of planning trips further in advance, the new rules seem unnecessary and unwelcome, said Drevon-Barreaux. He suggested that they may be more about politics than preventing terrorism on international flights. "This could be perceived as a protectionist measure, making non-U.S. based firms less competitive and unable to react quickly to clients' demands in a short timeframe," he said. "Asking for extra time would not help in protecting from terrorism but just penalize [international trade] and the whole economy between the U.S. and the rest of the world."
Chertoff told reporters that the current rule requiring carriers to transmit data from passenger name records within 15 minutes after take-off is "too late," and that the United States needs to identify potential threats before the plane departs. U.S. officials last month agreed to reduce the passenger data points it collects on transatlantic travelersfrom 34 to 19, but critics suggested that some data points on the new list are combinations of multiple pieces of information, and that only two points were actually eliminated.
"The recent agreement is a complete con," Gus Hosein, a fellow at the London School of Economics and of Privacy International, told The Register. "What the Americans and Europeans cunningly did is dupe the entire population by taking the list of 34, dropping two, and then taking less lines on the page. They merged items on one line."
For example, under the old rules, carriers would provide the passenger's date of reservation and the date the ticket was issued. Those two items were combined in the new requirements. The data points dropped from the program are the passenger's "no show" history and "go show" history. "Go show" is defined as a passenger who either buys a ticket at the airport or who has a booking without specific flight details.
Travelers from countries that are included in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program are allowed to visit the United States for up to 90 days without a visa, but the European Union and United States have battled over the program in recent years. European Union regulators want E.U. to participate as a whole, while the U.S. insists on evaluating countries individually.
The U.S. agreed to expand the Visa Waiver Program to include five more E.U. countries--Czech Republic, Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Estonia--but the 72-hour passenger notification rule could, in effect, place visa-like restrictions on travelers, critics said. Under the new security rules, passengers must register their trip itineraries and note personal or professional business plans in the U.S. before flying. If a passenger is barred from a flight due to the information they provide, they may seek redress at a U.S. consulate. The entire process then rivals visa applications, which usually require four to 10 days.
E.U. officials are reportedly now considering a similar security system to require American travelers to provide advance security-related information, according to The Guardian. Franco Frattini, E.U. justice and home affairs commissioner, is drafting an electronic travel authorization program that would require travelers to register online and give travel information two days before departure.
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