CBP wants more information to surveil and control air travelers
Today the Identity Project and allied civil liberties and human rights organizations submitted comments objecting to a proposal by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to require all travelers on international flights to or from the US to provide an address in the US, two phone numbers, and an email address, and prohibit or recommend that airlines not permit anyone who is unable or unwilling to provide this information to board any flight to or from the US. (See our report when this proposal was announced.)
In return for collecting this information and passing it on to CBP, airlines would be allowed to retain and use it for their own purposes, without permission from travelers. Airlines would also be allowed (and in some cases required) to pass it on to foreign governments.
The proposed CBP rule would apply to all travelers, including US citizens (regardless of whether they reside in the US), visitors, and asylum seekers.
The proposed rule is far more significant and far worse than it appears at first glance.
Although the proposal is represented by CBP as a minor change to an existing program that would cost airlines nothing and impose no costs on travelers, it would cost the airline industry hundreds of millions of dollars and impose costs on would-be travelers, especially asylum seekers, that would be measured not only in dollars but also in lives. The proposed rule would also violate multiple provisions of the Privacy Act, including in ways that would force travelers to make personal information available to hostile foreign governments.
Below are excerpts from our objections to the CBP proposal. You can read the complete comments of the Identity Project and our allies here. You can submit your own comments until midnight EDT tonight, Monday, April 3, 2023, by filling out this form.
The undersigned civil liberties and human rights organizations – the Identity Project (IDP), Government Information Watch, Restore The Fourth (RT4), Privacy Times, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) – submit these comments in response to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, “Advance Passenger Information System: Electronic Validation of Travel Documents”, Docket Number USCBP-2023-0002, FR Doc. 2023–02139, RIN 1651-AB43, 88 Federal Register 7016-7033 (February 2, 2023).
By this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) proposes to (1) expand the fields of information that all international travelers flying to or from the U.S. by common carrier are required to provide to airlines and that airlines are required to pass on to CBP (while being free to retain copies for their own profitable use); and (2) prohibit airlines from allowing certain individuals including those who don’t have, or are unable or unwilling to provide, two phone numbers, an email address, and an address in the U.S. (even if they are U.S. citizens who reside abroad), to board flights, or recommend that airlines not board them (in violation of airlines’ duties as common carriers to transport all passengers paying the fares in their tariffs, and in violation of travelers’ rights under Federal statutes, the Bill of Rights, Executive Orders, and international human rights treaties to which the U.S. is a party).
The proposed rule is purportedly intended to “enable CBP to determine whether each passenger is traveling with valid authentic travel documents prior to the passenger boarding the aircraft.” Aside from the fact that CBP has no jurisdiction over foreign citizens boarding foreign-flagged aircraft at foreign airports, the proposed rule would have little or no effect on CBP’s ability to detect travelers using documents issued to other people. The proposed rule would not serve its stated purpose, but would only serve to expand CBP’s systematic warrantless, suspicionless, surveillance of air travelers and CBP’s attempt to control airline travel.
As discussed below, the proposed rule exceeds CBP’s authority and jurisdiction and is contrary to law. It is also bad policy. It amounts to an attempt to impose a travel document requirement in the guise of document “validation”, to outsource to airlines surveillance and control of travelers that CBP would have no authority to conduct itself, and to frustrate the human right to asylum by preventing asylum-seekers from reaching the U.S.