Following the Obama-Cheney face-off on national security, I stumbled onto this terrorism-related development: when it comes to avoiding security hassles at U.S. airports, it may be best that one is Dutch.
As a friend responded when I told him of this discovery, perhaps it's because we figure you can't put bombs in wooden shoes.
In fact, the Department of Homeland Security and its U.S. Customs and Border Protection are expanding a program to make it easier to get through airport security--- if you're a citizen of the Netherlands, according to a notice in the Federal Register.
This involves what the government had been calling its International Registered Traveler program, a pilot endeavor whose name has now been changed to Global Entry, perhaps to save space on business cards or to benefit from success of the new "Star Trek" movie.
It's all about facilitating the processing of low-risk travelers, a subject which many of us are surely sympathetic with. Travel can be an increasing pain, unless you're super-rich with a private plane, or a member of the White House press corps. Both have traditionally tended not to face the same level of security or Customs scrutiny. Maybe things changed post-9/11 but when traveling, especially overseas, either on Air Force One or on the plush media charter during the Clinton presidency, I found that I could have brought back to Andrews Air Force Base dining room furniture, dead bodies and Persian rugs for the whole neighborhood with nary a peep.
In this case, Dutch citizens who sign-up for a private travel program in the Netherlands called Privium, and then fill an online application and fork over a nonrefundable $100, would get expedited clearance upon arrival at certain U.S. airports: John F. Kennedy in New York, George Bush Intercontinental Houston, Washington Dulles in Virginia, Los Angeles International, Hartsfield Jackson in Atlantic, O'Hare International in Chicago and Miami International.
As a notice in the Federal Register makes clear, the Global Entry pilot gives participants "expedited entry into the United States at any of the designated airport locations by using automated kiosks located in the Federal Inspection Services (FIS) area of each airport. Global Entry uses fingerprint biometrics technology to verify a participant's identity and confirm his or her status as a participant."
"After arriving at the FIS area, participants proceed directly to the Global Entry kiosk. A sticker affixed to the participant's passport at the time of acceptance in Global Entry will provide visual identification that the individual can be referred to the kiosk. Global Entry participants need not wait in the regular passport control primary inspection lines."
So you go to the kiosk and insert your passport or permanent resident card into a document reader. You then provide your fingerprints electronically. Those are compared with fingerprints on file. Once this is finished, you get a receipt, which you provide along with your documents to a Customs officer at the exit area.
Until now, only U.S. citizens and U.S. nationals participate in the pilot. But the Dutch now come aboard, at least those who participate in Privium (which sounds suspiciously like a drug for bowel problems hawked on our network newscasts). That program now allows expedited entry and exit at Amsterdam Airport, using iris scans to provide confirmation of a traveler's identity. "The border passage process takes approximately twelve seconds" there, according to the federal notice.
This is all well and good but still raises a few questions.
For example, the journalist-entrepreneur Steve Brill created a company called Clear, which is a 200,000-member, U.S.-based, government-approved expedited program for travelers. It's the biggest such program, with the Delta was the first major airline to sign up and offer its passengers the chance of much faster security lines in return for an enrollment fee. But it's only for domestic travel.
So the U.S. is now recognizing Privium but not its own Registered Traveler Program, overseen by the Transportation Security Administration, as automatically entitling you to expedited treatment when traveling to and from overseas.
So one now has two different agencies, Customs and TSA (which have not been a coosome twosome) within the very same federal department (Homeland Security) overseeing two different processes for zipping you to your plane, or out of an airport.
Why don't we have a one-size-fits-all system for both domestic and foreign travel?
Please, Peter Orzag and your smart and efficiency-craving minions at the Office of Management and Budget, tell me why this possibly makes sense.
It may not unless, well, you're Dutch.