U.S. to Make Airlines Give Data on Americans Going Overseas

privacy       2003-01-03 
Americans traveling abroad would have to give the government detailed personal information before leaving or returning under an antiterrorism rule that the Immigration and Naturalization Service proposed today.
The rule would force airlines and shipping companies to collect and submit to the government the name, birth date, sex, passport number, home country and address of every passenger and crew member. The intent is to provide the authorities with more complete information about who enters and leaves the United States.
Currently, air and shipping lines are not required to provide such information to the government about Americans. The proposed rule would make it mandatory for carriers to supply the information about American citizens and noncitizens, immigration officials said.
Much of the information is already collected from people entering the country in an arrangement in which 80 percent of commercial carriers voluntarily give personal information about their passengers to the immigration service, the officials said. The added information would be collected while the aircraft or vessel was en route to the United States and electronically transmitted to immigration officials on the ground at the port of entry.
The rule would also require carriers to provide information about people who are leaving the United States within 48 hours after the departure of their flight or vessel, the officials said.
The rule would take effect after a 30-day comment period. It would apply to passengers and crew members on airlines, cargo flights, cruise ships and other vessels. The information would be electronically checked against watch lists and databases of people suspected of being involved in terrorism or other criminal activity.
The changes are part of a border security bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed into law by President Bush on May 14, 2001. The law increases the number of immigration inspectors and investigators and heightens the scrutiny of visa applications from countries listed as sponsors of terrorism. The F.B.I. and the Central Intelligence Agency would have to increase information sharing with the State Department, which issues visas. The government will meld certain databases of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, to help screen visa applicants and foreigners entering the United States.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the new information storehouse must not be used as the basis for a national identification system. In monitoring foreign visitors, the rights group said, the government must not compromise Americans' privacy rights or harass people who "look foreign" or are members of racial minorities.
Civil liberties advocates were alarmed at some early proposals, including one that might have made noncitizens carry identification documents. Those ideas were dropped after bipartisan negotiations.