ACLU and Allies Oppose Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, Say Plan Undermines Privacy, Provides Little Security

September 7, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today joined with Citizen Against Government Waste and the Cato Institute to oppose the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). The WHTI will require all travelers, including American citizens, to have a passport or other “appropriate security document” to enter or re-enter the United States from countries within the Western Hemisphere, including Canada and Mexico.

“We do not dispute the government’s need to secure the borders, but policies must make sense, provide security and be effective: the WHTI fails on all three points,” said Timothy D. Sparapani, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The WHTI will not improve our national security, but it will undermine the privacy of law abiding Americans and create an ideal target for identity thieves. We urge Congress and the administration to revisit this faulty plan.”

The WHTI was mandated by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, and is slated to roll out in 2008. CAGW today issued a report outlining the shortcomings of the WHTI program.

The ACLU noted that no privacy protections exist regulating the sharing of information collected under WHTI or what information the new “appropriate security documents” would store. The WHTI would vastly expand the use of unproven biometrics such as facial recognition and create a tracking database that could be linked to private information. The WHTI doesn’t explicitly prohibit how the information can — and can’t — be used, leaving Americans vulnerable to invasions of their privacy.

Recent security breaches have shown that storing vast information in a single database is especially precarious and a ripe target for identity thieves. Any new identification document will likely contain radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, similar to that contained in new passports. Studies have shown that identity thieves, with the appropriate resources, can easily “skim” and clone the information contained in those documents.

In addition to the privacy concerns, estimates predict a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars from the American economy due to decreased cross-border and border-state commerce as a result of the WHTI. According to the Conference Board of Canada, our economy could lose up to $1.5 billion in money spent by Canadian tourists and lose up to 3.5 million Canadian tourists during the first year of WHTI alone.

“At its core, the WHTI only gives the illusion of security,” Sparapani added. “Terrorists, smugglers and undocumented immigrants could still find ways to enter the country or obtain false documents. The privacy of Americans should not be compromised under a failed program.”

To read CAGW’s report, go to their website at: www.cagw.org/site/DocServer/WHTI_Report__2_.pdf?docID=1721

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