December 2015 Archives

The web of trust shrinks

Legislation is passing Congress right now, with a promise of a signature, to add new exceptions to the Visa Waver Program for a broader class of visitors to the US:

  • Nationals of Iran, Sudan, Iraq, or Syria, regardless of any other passports they hold.
  • Anyone who has traveled to those four countries within the last five years.

Because, terrorism.

Iran and Syria have expansive rules for who may be considered a national, which means people who have never been inside one of those countries may be governed by this new rule. Among those are Steve Jobs family.

The EU is promising Dark Vengeance (well, firmly worded disappointed words, followed by a possible reciprocal attack on US entry).

Because Canada and Mexico both allow US citizens a visa-free entry, most Americans have zero idea how travel to a visa-requiring country works. Or even what is required. It's specific to each country, there is sometimes an application fee, being denied entry does not get you your money back, and more and more countries are requiring biometric data (fingerprints, eye-scans) as part of the application or entry processes. It introduces friction to international commerce and travel, which is why the US introduced the Visa Waver Program in the first place.

But, terrorism.

And trusting your neighbors well enough to police their own borders.

And dealing with domestic cries to vilify whole peoples.

We are seeing the continued erosion of the US web of trust. The EU used to be a prime partner in just about everything; we spent so much rebuilding Europe in the 1940's and 50's, those relationships don't die easy. And yet, here we are, about to say:

We trust you to tell us who are bad people. But these people will require us to do the determining, sorry.

It's throwing sand into the wheels of commerce, a point the EU ambassadors have made.

That trust is a big thing. Participation in the Visa Waver Program is why EU passports have biometric chips in them now. In the background Travelers from waver countries still have their details run through the same electronic background check that visa-countries require. A country can't get entry to the waver program unless you meet some heavy requirements, some of which are political ("shared democratic worldview").

By forcing people from these four countries to go in person to a US Embassy and obtain a tourist visa for entry, we are greatly increasing the effort it takes to travel here. Business people in, for example, London will need to add at least 7 days to their travel prep-time in order to get an appointment at an Embassy; there will be no hopping on a plane with three days notice to go to a meeting in New York.

This is pandering to the domestic crowd at the cost of our economic flexibility, with no significant increase in our security.