Feds loo to id foreign visitors
Published: Saturday, January 4, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 4, 2003 at 12:33 a.m.
WASHINGTON - The government wants detailed information about every person who comes to or leaves the country by commercial plane or boat, and for the first time will require U.S. citizens to fill out forms detailing their comings and goings.
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Under rules proposed Friday, the information would be sent electronically to the government for matching against security databases.
"It's another way to enhance security for travelers," Immigration and Naturalization Service spokeswoman Kimberly Weismann said.
The public will have a month to comment on the plan and the final regulations will take effect later this year. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has criticized many of the administration's anti-terrorism information-gathering efforts, said these rules should not impinge on people's privacy.
"We don't see a huge downside," spokeswoman Emily Whitfield said.
Congress mandated the changes in legislation that was signed into law by President Bush last May. The law also tightened rules governing the issuance of visas to visitors and students coming to the United States and added more Border Patrol officers.
The proposal requires all passengers arriving or departing, as well as crew members, to provide this information: name, date of birth, citizenship, sex, passport number and country of issuance, country of residence, U.S. visa number and other details of its issuance, address while in the United States, and, where it applies, alien registration number.
Not all information is required in every case. For example, a Canadian person would not need to provide passport information because one isn't required for a visit to the United States.
All commercial airlines, cargo flights, cruise ships and other vessels carrying crew or passengers will be affected, with the exception of most ferry boats. Private transportation is not affected, nor are commercial buses or trains.
The information will be sent electronically to the government before a traveler arrives in the United States or departs from it, giving officials a complete passenger and crew manifest.
The law also gives Attorney General John Ashcroft leeway in proposing further requirements. The aim is to detect potential terrorists or criminals immediately and to enhance the government's ability to track whether visitors to the United States have departed as planned.
The INS is weighing how long it will keep the information.
For years, international travelers have been required to fill out forms detailing their arrival and departure from countries around the world. Before the Sept. 11 attacks, the main goal was to speed travelers through customs.
The U.S. government, however, has not previously required its own citizens to submit such forms, and never required forms from departing travelers. Canadians, permanent resident aliens and certain other people also were exempted.
More than 29 million passengers flew to the United States from overseas in the first nine months of 2002, according to the Commerce Department. The cruise industry estimates that about 8 million U.S. passengers will embark in 2003.
Officials in the cruise and airline industries say the changes will be costly and could result in some initial delays and inconveniences for passengers.
"It'll be a little tricky at first but I don't see any major problems," said David O'Connor, U.S. director for the International Air Transport Association.
Industry officials agree the departure rules will present the most problems. Inbound ships and planes have an easier task because they already have a manifest of the crew and passengers on board, while those departing often must juggle last-minute passengers and delays caused by late-arriving connecting flights.
"For people on board, in your system, you have them there and you can readily get the information," said Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines. "For departures, it can provide a little bit of a bottleneck."
In the INS proposal, Ashcroft has added a proposed "passenger name record" for airlines that will enable the government to better match a departure record with one for an arrival.
Once the information is collected, it will be transmitted to the U.S. government and matched against security databases prior to the travelers' arrival. A passenger or crew member whose information raises a red flag could be met by officials when the ship or plane arrives.
The INS estimates the rules will affect 108 large commercial air carriers and ship lines, as well as more than 14,400 smaller carriers of both kinds. Initial costs to the private-sector are pegged at $166 million.
The INS says it will forgo collection of proposed $1,000-per-passenger fines until the rule is made permanent and then may forgive them through the end of the year if an airline or shipping company is making a good-faith effort to comply.
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