Saturday, February 17, 2007

I wonder whether you'll need an ID card to get a passport?

So from 2009, UK passport holders will need to appear in person at one of the proposed new passport centers to be interviewed and poked for various bodily fluids.

I am all for ID cards -- no problem with them at all. But this level of inconvenience is an unprecedented assault on civil liberties.

Firstly, in order to get a passport when I got my first one, you needed to complete the form, send two signed pictures together with statements from people who are not your relatives and have known you for two years or more (they had to be doctors/lawyers/professional people) and proof of your ID (birth-certifcate). Kind of like sacrificing your first born in paperwork, but do-able as a batch process. Then you waited for about anywhere between two and six weeks and magically it arrived in the post.

In the US, where I had my passport renewed in Washington last time, they insisted that it was couriered and signed for. That may happen here now given the climate.

Today's UK passports contain a chip containing all your details (albeit unusable presently).

Personally, I am happy with the process, cumbersome though it is.

What I am not happy with is being "interviewed" and having anal swabs.

Contrary to what my airmiles history looks like (700,000+), I am a nervous traveller. Not because of planes but because I have been singled out for inspection (and I mean real inspection not a cursory look through the bags) on more occasions than I care to remember. And every time I re-entered the US, I would be the interviewed by the INS for at least thirty minutes. The most memorable of these was a trip to Kristiansund in Norway where, when I went through customs, having flown via Schipol, I was literally strip searched. I had the inners of my shoes pulled out and was down to my underwear. Guess they didn't like 23 year old professionals flying into Oslo for a couple of days with a one day return flight to somewhere else via Amsterdam.

My second experience was on an outward bound flight to Chicago from Manchester, where I had everything in my bag ripped to shreds and then nearly missed my flight.

There have been various other domestic checks in the US, but they have not been nearly as traumatising as the international ones.

The INS had me flagged as having not left the US in 1994 because Virgin did not return my visa waiver card. Also, apparently there is someone in the Midwest who shares my name and is/was a wanted felon. I used to have to point out that I have arrived at and departed from the US at least 100 times since then. It got to the point where I could only hold my nerve with a couple of stiff sherberts in the final hours of descent into the point of entry.

And now I really have overstayed a visa there, albeit while trying to file an adjustment of status, I really do dread the next time I get to go. I'll be photographed, fingerprinted, scanned and subject to what I expect to be a very long and tortuous interview at the US embassy in London.

So, you can see why I hate travel.

Adding some extra authority means I will be even more jittery and therefore it will be a self-fulfiling prophecy and singled out for extra screening. Not to mention being hassled. And inconvenienced.

I'll be renewing my passport next year before this nonsense is introduced. That will cover me until 2018 when I will be 49 and I hardly think I'll be wanting to bound around the world doing business at that age, although I may not have a choice.

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