Last minute emergency passports no longer welcome in the United States

For decades, travelers who were struck by disaster and lost (or forgot) their passport were usually able to have an emergency passport issued by the border police at their airport. I know several people who had their passport stolen a week before a long trip, but were able to have a travel document issued just 2 days before their departure.

The ability to travel to the US on an emergency passport has come to an end due to advances in technology. The United States demands that all passports of visitors arriving on the Visa Waiver Program contain a radio frequency ID chip with their biometric information.

Visitors from non Visa Waiver countries need a visa, and therefor always need a passport, so the ability to travel on an emergency passport never applied to them.

Sadly, nobody has figured out how to embed one of these RFID chips in last minute travel papers, so anyone who loses their passport is now up poop creek without a paddle. Since the US has no intention of creating an exception to their RFID rules, people without a passport will have to go through the process of getting a “real” replacement before they can head towards the United States, and in many cases will have to cancel or delay their travel plans.

The good news is that the United States is the only country that requires an RFID/biometric passport, so travelers heading to other countries will be fine.

Former US Presidents clueless about Canadian border rules

Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush managed to amaze an audience at a town-hall style meeting in Toronto.

As of this past Monday, all Canadians trying to cross the border to enter the US will need a passport, much to their annoyance. When asked about the passport situation, both past Presidents showed their total lack of knowledge of the situation and were both unaware of the new rules.

Speakers in the audience were quick to point out that we have been friends with the Canadians for centuries, and that these new rules are slowly chipping away at the foundations that form our friendship.

It really is amazing to see how not one, but two Presidents admit to a total lack of knowledge of something so vital. Bush was in power just 5 months ago, and Clinton is married to the Secretary of State – and neither of them even knew about the new rules. Bush even mentioned the EZ pass, which is of course a wireless tollway payment system, not a border crossing card. He probably meant to refer to the Nexus Card program.

Still, it would be a wise idea for future Presidents visiting our neighbors up north to brush up on their homework before speaking, especially on a topic that is annoying so many Canadians.

So, what exactly is in your Homeland Security travel file?

Back in 2007, Jamie wrote an article outlining how to request getting your hands on your Homeland Security travel file.

Based on the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), anyone is allowed to request that federal agencies hand over the information they keep on file about you. There are of course a couple of exceptions, but your Homeland Security travel dossier is not one of them.

Of course, just outlining how to get this information is not that interesting, actually seeing one of these dossiers is the really good stuff.

Newsweek reporter Sean O’Neill put in his request, and received a large Homeland Security envelope with 20 photocopies containing his dossier.

So, what exactly is in the file? There is of course the usual stuff about where you went, and when you got back. The file listed all his ports of entry, as well as his passport information and various other pieces of data.

The bit that surprised me, was how much information was on file about how he paid for his tickets. Not only does the airline send the government your payment method, they even send the IP address of the computer used to make that purchase as well as any IP address assigned to a computer that was used for other things, like a seat assignment change.

Of course, none of this information is all that sensitive, but it’s obvious that the government is collecting a massive amount of information on every single traveler in the country. On the one hand, it’s a minor invasion of privacy, but on the other hand, if the government puts this information to good use, and masters the art of data mining, they may be able to halt the bad guys before they make it to the airport.

Either way, it’s a very interesting read, and it may prompt you to ask the government for access to your own file, or perhaps it’ll just remind you not to use Al Qaeda computers to pay for your next ticket.


Apply for a U.S. passport card on February 1

Starting tomorrow, U.S. citizens can fill out an application for a passport card which will “facilitate entry and expedite document processing at U.S. land and sea ports-of-entry when arriving from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda,” according to the U.S. Department of State’s website.

The card basically carries the same rights and privileges that the standard passport book offers, but it may not be used for air travel. It also houses the ever popular RFID chip which will “link the card to a stored record in secure government databases.” No personal data will be stored in the chip, however.

Cards are expected to ship in Spring 2008, and cost $45 for new applicants.