Papers Pliz!

The next big terror attack will trigger all western nations to combine the tight border control the US uses (on legal visitors) and an efficient implementation of the intrusive visitor tracking of southern Europe.

The US now collects the Passenger Name Record (PNR) for each (legal) arrival:

These include,

  • Fare details, and any restrictions that may apply to the ticket.
  • The form of payment used, as this will usually restrict any refund if the ticket is not used.
  • Further contact details, such as phone contact numbers at their home address and intended destination.
  • Age details if it is relevant to the travel, eg, unaccompanied children or elderly passengers requiring assistance.
  • Details of special meal requirements, seating preferences, and other similar requests.

Civil libertarians who complain about PNR sharing are closing the stable door – this data is already held in highly insecure travel reservations systems such as SABRE, where al Qaeda can easily access it.

In addition, US arrivals are fingerprinted and photographed.

The UK, Germany, France and Holland isn’t quite so thorough (for us Brits at least), but scans all passports and has an extensive blacklist compiled by efficient security services.

But all but the UK have unprotected borders, so the bad guys can get in. And island Britain (probably because it is an island) has a libertarian judiciary and incompetent border controllers, so is just as porous.

In these nations once you’re in, you’re home free.

In the European south (Spain, Italy, I think still Greece), when you register at any lodging place, your passport is copied to the local police. And you must carry your it everywhere and present it on demand to anyone in a uniform.

In practice the cops have much better things to do than data-mine visitor records and harass valuable tourists.

So neither approach works as advertised, which is great for us libertarians.

Unfortunately, the West reacts to each terror attack with a new raft of security measures, so we should expect that soon both border and internal checks will become both standard and efficient in all Western nations.

That won’t be nice, although it may level the playing field for the US, which has suffered a big economic hit for its security measures:

…in a recent analysis of travel policies written with former Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge, said the 17 percent drop in visits since 2000 has cost the United States $100 billion in lost visitor spending, almost 200,000 jobs and $16 billion in lost tax receipts.

Still Australia may still be OK…

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