Monday, April 25, 2011

Absurd Proposed Form for Getting a US Passport

State Dept. wants to make it harder to get a passport. You have until the end of day today to submit a comment to the state department at

"The U.S. Department of State is proposing a new Biographical Questionnaire for some passport applicants: The proposed new  Form DS-5513 asks for all addresses since birth; lifetime employment history including employers’ and supervisors names, addresses, and telephone numbers; personal details of all siblings; mother’s address one year prior to your birth; any ‘religious ceremony’ around the time of birth; and a variety of other information.  According to the proposed form, ‘failure to provide the information requested may result in … the denial of your U.S. passport application.’"

The proposed form is here. Page 2 is absurd. List your mother's residence one year before, at the time of and one year after your birth. "Did your mother receive pre-natal or post-natal medicare care?" Where and what were the dates of the appointments! And that's not the most ridiculous question, that honor goes to “Please describe the circumstances of your birth including the names (as well as address and phone number, if available) of persons present or in attendance at your birth.”

A list of employers does not provide citizenship proof, a birth or naturalization certificate does. If this form is for children of US citizens born abroad it should say so and it should still be more narrowly tailored.


Karl said...

You are obviously approaching this form from the perspective that every citizen is entitled to travel internationally. If instead you look at passports as a tool to limit the movement of potential unsavory characters, questions like these make a lot more sense. Consider the problems surrounding the no-fly-lists, particularly when the policy is implemented by busy airport personnel. If instead you can restrict issuance of passport at the government's leisure, you could construct a much more secure net. Consider also how much more confidence foreign countries would have admitting persons with US passports, since it would guarantee them as upstanding people.

The main problem I see is with the implementation. Certainly, based on other forms asking a similar range of questions, the estimate on time to complete the forms is misstated (unless, say, you complete them at birth). Perhaps they mean this is the amount of time an average person would take to fill in the form once all information has been gathered? The bigger problem is in the manpower required to review and verify the forms. You would need an army of investigators/researchers plus several layers of oversight to ensure power was not being abused. It would likely extend processing time and cost to unacceptable levels. Without that manpower, the only value of the information beyond quick keyword or known association links, would be in a posteriori analysis, or targeting of specific individuals for detailed review.

Howard said...

I do believe that "every citizen is entitled to travel internationally". Am I wrong?

I know the government can limit travel to some countries (Cuba) and I know other countries can have restrictions on entry (visas), but other than in the cases of criminal investigations (don't leave the country), I've always thought anyone can travel. I realize now that's just an assumption that I never put much thought into, but is it incorrect?

Karl said...

The leadup comment was intended to present the idea a clearly absurd. On its face, the right to travel would seem to be obvious. Mostly because countries which have historically restricted travel include places like Eastern block Europe, China and Cuba. However as a non-law scholar, I'm not sure if there is legal reason to expect free travel as a right. One might reasonably argue such action falls within the government's power to provide security. The best I could find against it would be the general 9th and 10th amendments.

Regardless of its legality, I still think it's a bad, difficult to implement, and easy to abuse idea.