Sep 24 2012

State Dept. admits passport form was illegal, but still wants it approved

The new U.S. passport application forms are back, worse than ever.

Ignoring massive public opposition, and despite having recently admitted that it is already using the “proposed” forms illegally without approval, the State Department is trying again to get approval for a pair of impossible-to-complete new passport application forms that would, in effect, allow the State Department to deny you a passport simply by choosing to send you either or both of the new “long forms”.

Early last year, the State Department proposed a new “Biographical Questionnaire” for passport applicants, which would have required anyone selected to receive the new long-form DS-5513 to answer bizarre and intrusive personal trivia questions about everything from whether you were circumcised (and if so, with what accompanying religious rituals) to the dates of all of your mother’s pre- and post-natal medical appointments, your parents’ addresses one year before you were born, every address at which you have ever resided, and your lifetime employment history including the names and phone numbers of each of your supervisors at every job you have ever held.

Most people would be unable to complete the proposed new form no matter how much time and money they invested in research. Requiring someone to complete Form DS-5513 would amount to de facto denial of their application for a passport — which, as we told the State Department, appeared to be the point of the form.

The State Department’s notice of the proposal in the Federal Register didn’t include the form itself. After we published the proposed Form DS-5513, the story went viral and more than 3,000 public comments objecting to the proposal were filed with the State Department in the final 24 hours of the comment period.

After that fiasco, the State Department went dark for several months, and claimed that they would “revise” the form. But they didn’t give up, and apparently they didn’t listen to (or didn’t care) what they had been told by members of the public in our comments.

The State Department is now seeking approval for a (slightly) revised Form DS-5513 as well as a new Form DS-5520, also for passport applicants, containing many of the same questions.

The State Department no longer wants you to tell the passport examiner about the circumstances of your circumcision, but does still want to know the dates and locations of all of your mother’s pre- and post-natal medical appointments, how long she was hospitalized for your birth, and a complete list of everyone who was in the room when you were born. The revised forms no longer ask for all the addresses at which you have lived, but only for those addresses you are least likely to know: all the places you lived from birth until age 18.

And so on, as you can see for yourself on the proposed Form DS-5513 and Form DS-5520.

Pursuant to the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.), any “information collection” by Federal agencies must be approved in advance by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). If a Federal government form or questionnaire (including verbal questioning, if the same questions are asked of ten or more people) asks you to provide information, but doesn’t contain a current, valid, unexpired “OMB control number”, you aren’t required to answer and can’t be penalized for declining to answer.

There are still no rules in the supporting materials submitted to OMB by the State Department (supporting documents for Form DS-5513, supporting documents for Form DS-5520) for who will be required to complete which (or both) of these two new forms. It would still be up to the standardless, secret, administrative “discretion” of any passport examiner who doesn’t like your looks to spike your right to foreign travel by choosing to give you one or both of the “long form” passport applications.

Supposedly, Form DS-5520 will be for those passport applicants of whose “identity” the State Department is in doubt, while the partially-redundant Form DS-5513 will be for those whose “entitlement” to a U.S. passport (i.e. U.S. citizenship) is in question.  But both forms say that, “Failure to provide the information requested may result in … the denial of your U.S. passport application.”

As we noted in our comments (which appear to have been almost entirely ignored), the State Department is entitled to require only that information which is actually necessary to establish identity and eligibility. Once an applicant has provided prima facie evidence of identity and eligibility for a U.S. passport, the State Department has no further authority for interrogatories. A passport must be issued unless there is sufficient evidence to overcome the applicant’s showing of identity and citizenship.

State Department regulations entitle passport applicants to establish their identity by the affidavit of an identifying witness, in lieu of documentary evidence of identity. So the new Form DS-5520 (“Supplemental Questionnaire to Determine Identity for a U.S. Passport”) would be “necessary” only if no identifying witness is available. Bringing an identifying witness when you apply for a passport is a nuisance, but often easier than completing the “long-form” application questionnaires.

As we’ve recently pointed out, however, the State Department seems to be trying not to call attention to the option of establishing identity by a witness, and to make it harder for applicants to exercise that right.  Apparently the government thinks that papers, not people, are the ultimate arbiters of who we are. And the State Department is succeeding. The number of people using the witness affidavit (Form DS-71) has fallen by about 75% in the five years since the required form was removed from the State Department’s website.

The State Department published another set of notices in the Federal Register about the revised forms. But since the Federal Register notices didn’t include the actual forms, there was no way to verify whether the “revisions” actually addressed the public objections to the first draft of Form DS-5513.

Not surprisingly, most people felt that we had already told the State Department what to do with the proposed from — scrap it! — and hardly any new comments were submitted.

The State Department’s latest submissions to OMB make no mention of the thousands of comments submitted in objection to the original proposal, or of the issues we raised that the proposed form and its use would exceed the State Department’s authority and violate other Federal laws, the First Amendment, and international human rights treaties that protect the right to freedom of movement.

In July of this year, OMB rejected the requests for approval of both the revised Form DS-5513 (OMB notice of action) and the proposed new Form DS-5520  (OMB notice of action) as “improperly submitted”.  OMB didn’t say publicly what was “improper” about the State Department’s requests, but we suspect that the impropriety was that the State Department claimed that these were “new” forms when in fact, as we reported last year, they were and are already being used, illegally, without OMB approval.

This August, the State Department resubmitted the proposed forms (Form DS-5513, Form DS-5520) to OMB with new “supplemental statements” admitting that both Form DS-5513 (MS-Word version; PDF) and Form DS-5520 (MS-Word version; PDF) are “existing collection[s of information] in use  without an OMB control number” and that both of these forms were “created to correct a procedure that might have been inconsistent with the Paperwork Reduction Act.”

In other words, “We’ve been using these unapproved forms illegally for years, but now we want OMB to give us its blessing to keep on using them.”

OMB is now considering these resubmitted State Department “information collection requests”. There’s no fixed deadline for the current OMB review, but in the meantime, use of the forms remains illegal.

The State Department still hasn’t answered our year-old FOIA request for information about the current unauthorized forms, including how long they have been in use and how many people have been required to fill them out (under illegal threat of denial of a U.S. passport if they are unable or unable to provide the requested information).

OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) says that:

In addition to submitting comments through, outside parties may provide written comments to the OIRA Administrator on a regulatory action under review. Parties may also request a meeting with the Administrator. The best way to communicate comments to OIRA is by fax at (202-395-7245). The best way to request a meeting regarding a rule is to contact the Docket Library at 202-395-6880. At any point, members of the public may also submit comments to … OIRA about any currently approved information collections.

We’ve already called and faxed OIRA to resubmit our comments (which the State Department ignored), and to request a meeting to discuss the objections we and our many co-signers raised. You can also submit comments to OMB by e-mail to

If you submit comments to OIRA, make sure you say that you are commenting on OMB’s review of proposed Department of State information collection requests Form DS-5513 (ICR Reference Number 201208-1405-002) and Form DS-5520 (ICR Reference Number 201208-1405-001).

We’ve provided links above to all of the cited documents on .gov websites where possible because the forms are so incredible that many readers doubted their authenticity when we posted the original version last year.

[Update: In response to our request for a meeting, OMB has informed us that their policy on meetings with concerned organizations only applies to “rulemaking” reviews, and not to “information collection” reviews.  But they did accept and said they will consider our comments and any others they receive.]

28 thoughts on “State Dept. admits passport form was illegal, but still wants it approved

  1. Thank you for making me aware of this. I also doubt the BS claim that a very small percentage of the population will be affected. And even if a small % is, why is that a good tradeoff for giving up civil liberties???

    One group it’s going to affect that I’m sure the State Dept. is not thinking about is a community I belong to: transgender/transsexual/gender non-conforming Americans who might actually want to travel. Imagine that? Some of us wouldn’t be able to provide a proper birth certificate because it would be at odds with our current gender either in person or on our drivers license. An example: I am legally male everywhere except my birth certificate. So like I’m going to open myself up to harassment and BS from a govt employee just to get a passport.

    Again, thank you for this. I am starting to make trans people I know aware of this problem and hoping we can find a solution.

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  6. So….more and more control of citizens and less and less control of illegal immigrants. When the FEMA lines are drawn (actually they already are) you wil not be allowed to go from State to State without a passport and visa. The game is called – CONTROL.

  7. Pingback: State Dept. admits passport form was illegal, but still wants it approved « Etched in Silicon

  8. Obviously, this is meant to keep baby boomers in the country so they can’t emigrate. I seriously doubt there’s a person alive who was present when I was born. Pre-natal care, what a dirty joke to play on people who grew up on the farm and their mothers had no access or very little to a doctor before or even during or after your birth. I know where I was born and it’s on my B.C. The place hasn’t existed in well over 40 years and most of the people who worked there haven’t existed in well over 20 years if not 30 years or more. There is no one to ask who was present at my birth since there is no one alive from that date, the only thing I actually know for sure.

    This is the certain tyranny of the authoritarian police state the U.S. has become.

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  10. All US diplomatic passports and passports of non civil service State department officials should be immediately revoked, from Hillary on down. Since passports are issued by the State Department and Hillary is the . Thees people should then be forced to reapply for their replacement diplomatic passports with complete and ACCURATE proposed Form DS-5513’s attached, starting with Hillary. since, as head of the State department, she is ultimately PERSONALLY responsible for this fabulous new form. Should there happen to be innacurate or non-verifiable statements in these submittals, the responsible officials should be prosecuted under the purjury laws and sent to the Supermax; if forms are incomplete or missing the passport applications should be summarily rejected.
    This alone would eliminate the need for 99% of diplomatic passports since nobody would qualify, and likewise eliminate the need for all State Department operations, since it would be impossible to find anybody to staff it.

  11. This is beyond preposterous. Let’s not forget that, if you’re adopted, and from a state that had closed adoption laws, it may well be impossible AND illegal to answer many of these questions.

  12. I Am Being Illegally “held” in the USA Without Charges

    I am 64 years old and have, much to my regret, never traveled abroad. I have the opportunity to go to France for a vacation with a friend who is enrolling his daughter in an American School in France. However, I have been denied a passport because even with all that you supply to the passport office I have “not established my identity.”

    The letter said that I had to complete the “biographical sheet” which was not enclosed. Looking on line I see that I have to “know” the address and zip code of every place I have lived in the US plus additional information that would only be required of a felon or terrorist.

    Sixty four and they suggest I supply a high school year book photo? I was born in Wichita Falls Texas in 1948 to citizens who also never traveled abroad. I owe no money. I have no criminal charges against me. Even my auto insurance knows that I have never in 64 years had an accident. I have no traffic tickets.

    One of my children, and her family, have passports and have travel abroad extensively. The Social Security Office recognizes my identity enough to award me survivor benefits. A company I worked for for years recognizes my identity to the degree that I will receive my pension next year. The State of Texas recognizes me to the extent of recognizing that I have “lost property.” I am executrix of my mother’s estate and am recognized as such by various legal entities.

    Despite all this, the State Department does not recognize me as a US citizen who poses no threat in, as a senior citizen, visiting a foreign country before I die. Felons, dual citizens, people who owe child support etc. are able to get first time passports; however, I am not.

    I can only assume that despite being a citizen with no legal problems, I am being held illegally in this country. I feel humiliated…violated…raped of my rights.

    Nena Norwood

  13. SO ?? going to give young illegals permission to stay…and prove the requirement for this benifit….OMB ,so what …look hard at the “requirement” to provide SSN on the current form and tell me this matters or rather at this late date it could possibly matter…AS IF ….it would be changed….the current forms are carrying the Matadora exemptions given by his highness Regan in freaking 1980’s…that do not apply to “citizens” only denizens….move-on nothing to see here…

  14. Nena, you are the only one so far who has actually tried to get a passport using these forms and has written here about it, so I see that it is no exaggeration. I can agree heartily with your last sentence. And certainly as you say you have proven your identity enough times to be able to do what you do at home, so why the goddam ridiculous demands now?? I am from Canada, have a vacation home in Arizona. You should all write your representatives NOW and raise the biggest protest you can. I will also be doing that on your behalf.

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  18. I live in India, and plan to never come to the US, but this sadly affects us too. Indian government just apes the US regulations, saying “since they do it, it must be right!”

    I have no idea whether these US problems will go away (I hope they do), but I do want the “rest of the world” to stop idolizing the US.

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  21. I just recieved this form today to fill out.To be honest the questions are just obsured.A Us citizen shouldn’t have to go thru such bullshit for a us passport.I think that any Us citizen
    has a right to a us passport without such a hassle and this impossible questionaire.So if there is anyone who can tell me what I should do please leave a comment.

  22. I just received this and i am outraged at the amount of paperwork that is required. I am so pissed because half of it am supposed to remember? How so? I have so many questions regarding this!!!! I don’t understand why I received a card passport that they issued me many years ago that isn’t expired but yet they give me all this stupid paperwork for a “book passport”! What happens if you do not recall things about your parents? How are you supposed provided all this information? Why is this necessary for so much paperwork? What happens if your parents passed away? What happens if a child is adopted and you don’t know their parents???? What is the point of this? How much are they willing to look into you for? What is the primary paperwork that needs to be provided? Isn’t this violating privacy and our right to freedom? Why do they need to look into every citizen in the US? How are they finding time to look into everyone who is receiving this amount of paperwork? I feel as a US citizen that we are not important enough to make time to search all this paperwork. We are either filling this paperwork out to our best abilities but as soon as they find a mistake they implement a warning,”fines and imprisonment”. this paperwork states that this paperwork is voluntary, “but wait theres more!!!” then says that we do not need to supply this information as long as it displays a currently valid OMB control number. What the hell is that?

  23. I got my new passport in May, I filled out the paperwork in mid April. I saw no such application all I saw was the standard one. I just don’t know what this article is all about.

  24. @Heather — Only some people get sent this (additional) form. There are no publicly-disclosed standards for who gets it, and who doesn’t. That’s part of the problem.

  25. My husband received DS-5520 in response to his passport application so believe me people, it’s fucking real and fucking infuriating. We already had a trip to Iceland planned, which we had to cancel because there is no way he could complete all the inane insanity on that form. He’s never had any legal trouble and while he’s traveled a lot domestically and moved around, he is an upstanding law-abiding citizen. So there is absolutely no fucking reason for this to be happening.
    So my question is, if I fill out DS-71, will that get him his passport? And can I just print the PDF you guys have included on here or do I have to request it from the state department or something?

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  27. I applied for a renewal passport book by mail early May 2018. I’m 47 and my book expired 11/2012, but I have a current Passport card that will expire in 2021. Last week I received form DS-5520 in the mail and I refuse to fill it out and submit it. Today 05/25/2018 I went in person to a Passport Agency and took my 71 y/o Mother along with DS-71 and they did not accept the DS-71 in place of DS-5520. My Mother is a sweetheart and did not mind coming along, I provided several copies of documents, none older than 9 years, except for my Birth Certificate and my Parent’s Marriage Certificate. Not everyone keeps old documents around. I might have some somewhere, but the fact that I mailed my expired book and current card came back as not sufficient to establish my identity PISSES ME OFF!!!! I was told in person at the Agency that if I do not submit the DS-5520 that my renewal book might get denied and I told the person that I will take my chances, but I will NOT fill out the DS-5520.

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