The London Telegraph reports on a new series of requirements for travelers from Europe to the US which appear to push the boundaries of privacy further than ever. An agreement with Brussels will now require all European carriers to make passenger credit accounts and other information available to American security officials before the passengers can get clearance to enter the US:
Britons flying to America could have their credit card and email accounts inspected by the United States authorities following a deal struck by Brussels and Washington.
By using a credit card to book a flight, passengers face having other transactions on the card inspected by the American authorities. Providing an email address to an airline could also lead to scrutiny of other messages sent or received on that account.
The extent of the demands were disclosed in “undertakings” given by the US Department of Homeland Security to the European Union and published by the Department for Transport after a Freedom of Information request.
About four million Britons travel to America each year and the released document shows that the US has demanded access to far more data than previously realised.
This information would not get limited to homeland-security investigations. The agreement with Brussels allows the US to use the information for other “serious crimes”. It does not appear that the US has committed to reciprocity, either; we only agreed to “encourage” American carriers flying to Europe to give the EU the same kind of access.
I don’t know about you, but this seems a little much. I can understand needing the no-show history of a passenger, but the credit-card transactions make less sense. If the government believes that a passenger constitutes a threat, they should bar them from traveling and get the court orders to investigate their credit history. In fact, I’m not sure what purpose this serves except to emphasize the need for terrorists to use cash, a habit they already have. Only an idiot would leave a paper trail through credit cards while attempting a crimial conspiracy.
Let’s talk about reciprocity. Would you like to give over all the transactions for your credit card to, say, France as a requirement of traveling to Paris? I’m not sure what use they would make of the record, but I’d be less than thrilled — especially since it appears to have no real value in terms of securing either side of the pond against terrorists. It sounds like something from an old wish list that got dusted off after 9/11.
The NSA surveillance program makes more sense than this. In that case, the NSA needed the flexibility to listen to conversations from already-suspected international numbers without having to wait for a court order, a wait that would mean missing potentially critical information in telephone calls during the interim. In this case, we should have hours or days to run a check on a much smaller pool of targets, and the data they seek would likely have no bearing on an attack. This seems like one imposition that is ill-considered — and should be reconsidered.