Back in March, the State Department published a notice in the Federal Register that they were proposing a new “Biographical Questionnaire” for (some) passport applicants. But the notice didn’t include the proposed form itself. Curious, and concerned, we requested a copy of the proposed form from the State Department contact person listed in the Federal Register notice.
When we got the proposed Form DS-5513, we were horrified. We immediately posted the form here on our website, with an alert about the proposal. We also prepared and submitted formal comments to the State Department opposing the proposal, which were co-signed by the Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights (CFPHR), Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), Privacy Activism, Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA), Robert Ellis Smith, and John Gilmore.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media didn’t pick up the story until after we wrote about the filing of our comments at ConsumerTraveler.com last Friday. After that, the story went viral. And it’s still spreading: today it’s reported on MSNBC and across the spectrum of political blogs and news sites from Glenn Beck to the Daily Kos.
What’s consistent across that political spectrum is the outrage. From fewer than 50 public comments in the State Department docket on Friday, the count went to more than 900 before the comment deadline yesterday (Monday) at midnight. But that’s not all. State Department docket clerks are still processing the backlog of last-minute submissions, which can take up to a couple of weeks. By lunchtime today, the count of public comments was up to more than 3000. We haven’t had time to read them all, but we haven’t found any in those we sampled that support the State Department’s proposal.
Organizational comments opposing the proposed “Biographical Questionnaire” were submitted by:
- The Identity Project (IDP), Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights (CFPHR), Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), Privacy Activism, Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA), Robert Ellis Smith, and John Gilmore.
- National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and Transgender Law Center
- Family Equality Council, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), PFLAG National (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and The Gay & Lesbian Medical Association
- NAFSA (Association of International Educators)
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
- Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) (“As a world leading industry competing in global markets, our members depend on the ability to freely and easily travel across international borders. We are concerned that the new passport information requirements proposed by the DOS are onerous, unduly burdensome, and will prohibit or discourage legitimate international travel by American citizens…. CEA urges the DOS to withdraw its proposal for Form DS-5513.”)
- Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) (late-filed comments questioning the adequacy of the State Dept. notice and requesting that the State Dept. issue a more detailed notice and allow another public comment period)
In addition to the comments submitted to the Department of State, here are some of the other discussions of this issue going on around the Web as news of this scheme spreads:
- ConsumerTraveler.com: State Dept. wants to make it harder to get a passport
- KPCC public radio: Your papers, please: State Department proposes new goofy rules to obtain a passport
- BoingBoing: State Dept adding intrusive, semi-impossible questionnaire for US passport applications
- Village Voice: Where Were You Circumcised?: State Department Passport Application is Impossible
- Reason: State Dept. Proposes Creepy, Impossible-To-Answer Questions for Passport Applications
- The Agitator (Radley Balko): State Dept. Proposes Creepy, Impossible-To-Answer Questions for Passport Applications
- Consumerist: State Department Proposal Would Make It Tougher For Some To Get Passports
- The Blaze: Were You Circumcised? New Passport Questionnaire Baffles Many With Absurd Info Demands
- The Wandering Aramean: Is getting a US passport about to become a LOT harder?
- Immigration Law Daily: “Want A New Passport ? Adopted Children Need Not Apply”
- SodaHead News: Should You Have to Remember Every Job You’ve Ever Had to Get a Passport?
- The Raw Story: State Department wants passport applicants to reveal lifetime employment history
- Salon.com: The Passport Questionnaire You Simply Can’t Answer
- The Atlantic: Passports and Freedom to Leave
- Korea Daily News: Odd questions in new U.S. passport application form (English translation)
- LewRockwell.com: Want a Passport? Better Find Your Circumcision Records!
- Cato @ Liberty: Not the Transparency I Was Hoping For
- Declassified Adoptee: Making it Harder to Get a Passport, Even for Adoptees With OBCs?
- Gold Star Mom Speaks Out: It’s None of Their Business
- Newser: Proposed Passport Form Is Basically Impossible
- IndependentTraveler.com: The Passport Application Form from Hell: Coming Soon?
- Daily Kos: Show Me Your Papers, Comrade. New Passport Application Biographical Data (with reader poll)
- Daily Kos: Papers Please – Comments close on new passport application requirements
- Glenn Beck blog: Why doesn’t Gov want you to have a passport?
- The Glenn Beck TV Show (April 26, 2011; video and transcript) (More: “Why don’t you just put nipple clamps on Americans?“)
- The Glenn Beck Radio Program: “This is evil.” (April 26, 2011; audio; video)
- MSNBC: Want a U.S. passport? Were you circumcised? Proposed questionnaire gets personal for applicants who can’t supply birth certificate
- TIME: Proposed U.S. Passport Questionnaire Asks About Baptism, Circumcision
- Washington Square News (NYU) editorial: New passport questionaire leaves room for discrimination
- Forbes blogs: An Outbreak of Bureaucratic Idiocy
- Semi-Charmed Life: In Which the Proposed New U.S. Passport Application Gets Shredded
- Budget Travel: They want to know what?! A new passport questionnaire could get very personal
Seemingly the only voice raised in support of the proposed questionnaire was from Arthur Frommer, who stressed the fact that only some people (presumably other people) would have to complete the new form. Frommer’s position drew criticism from his own readers, with one commenter in Frommer’s blog saying that they were “Disappointed… in Arthur” and another writing, “In this, your only justification seems to be ‘Calm down, everyone, I just learned that this regulation won’t affect me.”’ (In the same article, Frommer also says he thinks that protests against TSA virtual strip-search and geneital groping policies has “dwindled … in the wake of a realization by the public of the role that the TSA plays in protecting us from terrorism.” Right. It’s all for our own good.)
Many people found the State Department proposal so outrageous that they assumed it must be a hoax. It’s not. We understand that it may seem fishy that the State Department chose to publish a notice in the Federal Register that it was proposing a new form, but didn’t publish the proposed form itself in the Federal Register. But that was their choice of how to proceed, not ours. We were sent the proposed Form DS-5513 in March, in response to our request, by the person identified in the Federal Register notice as the point of contact from whom it could be obtained: Alexys Garcia, GarciaAA@state.gov, 212-736-9216. We immediately published the form we received from the State Department here on our website. There’s more at the links in the sidebar on who we are and how to contact us, as well as links to press reports on our previous work and current projects. Like the co-signers of the comments we submitted to the State Department, and the other commenters listed above, we’re for real, and so is this proposal from the State Department. We wish this were a hoax, but it’s not.
What happens next? It’s up to the State Department whether to submit the proposed form to OMB for approval along with the overwhelming record of public opposition, to modify the proposal, or to withdraw it entirely. The deadline for public comments on this specific proposal has passed, but it’s not to late to tell Congress and the President to take action to restore the freedom of movement guaranteed by the First Amendment and international law — and, while they are at it, to rein in the TSA. We’ve got a little list of actions they could take to start that process.