Jun 29 2010

State Dept. brushes off critics, raises passport fees

Yesterday the Department of State published an interim final rule putting its previously proposed increases in passport and visa fees into effect as of July 13, 2010.

The State Department admitted that more than 98% of the comments received from individual members of the public were opposed to the fees, as were comments from the travel industry and from the Identity Project and other consumer and civil liberties organizations.  But the State Department brushed off those objections (failing even to acknowledge our complaint that the rulemaking violated US international treaty obligations on freedom of movement, or our complaint and those of travel companies that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act) and finalized the proposed fee increases unchanged.  No consideration was given to their economic impact on self-employed or freelance business travelers, despite the requirement for such an assessment under the Regulatory Flexibility Act.

Unless the interim final rule is challenged in court (perhaps by travel companies, on APA grounds), fees for new or renewal passports and “passport cards” will all increase for applications received by the Passport Office on or after July 13, 2010.  The most extreme increase will be for adding blank visa pages to a current passport, currently a free service for which a new fee of $82 will be imposed.  If your passport might fill up before it expires, apply for new pages now.

Jun 29 2010

TSA has a new top cop

Following hasty hearings by the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation and Homeland Security Committees, the Senate gave unamimous consent on Friday, without a recorded vote, to the nomination of John S. Pistole, the pistol-packing deputy director of the FBI and right-hand man to Robert Mueller in the FBI’s often extra-judicial “war” on terror, to be an Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security and the Administrator of the TSA.

The hearings (see the links above for archived webcasts) were a mix of praise for Pistole’s police “toughness” and criticism of the possibility that he might allow TSA employees to form a labor union.  “Should law enforcement officers be unionized?”, several Senators asked, apparently duped by their badges, uniforms, titles, and attitudes of presumed authority into thinking that at Transportation Security “Officers” and contractors are law enforcement officers, when in fact they are civilians without police powers (except for a handful of investigators like the ones the TSA sent to serve subpoenas on journalists who published leaked descriptions of some of their procedures).

Civil liberties were scarcely mentioned during the confirmation hearings and none of our suggested questions were asked. Nor was there any mention of Mr. Pistole’s lack of civilian experience.

The last thing the TSA needs, in our opinion, is more cop-think and an even more paramilitary attitude.  We’re hoping for the best, but we suspect that this appointment will make it even more important for US citizens’ and visitors to exercise our rights rather than relying on the TSA or Congress to recognize on their own initiative.