Finger Printing Visitors

I don’t have time for a real post, but wanted to note that the US-VISIT program has started.

Foreigners arriving at U.S. airports were photographed and had their fingerprints scanned Monday in the start of a government effort to use some of the latest surveillance technology to keep terrorists out of the country.

The program allows Customs officials to check passengers instantly against terrorist watch lists and a national criminal database.

The goal is to “make sure our borders are open to visitors but closed to terrorists,” Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said.

[…] Under the new rules, travelers press their index fingers onto an inkless scanner and then have their photograph taken as they make their way through customs.

The security checks target foreigners entering the 115 U.S. airports that handle international flights, as well as 14 major seaports. The only exceptions will be visitors from 27 countries —- mostly European nations —- whose citizens are allowed to come to the United States for up to 90 days without visas.

Also exempted will be most Canadians, because they usually are not required to get visas, and Mexicans who are coming into the country for a short time and not venturing far from the border.

The program, called US-VISIT, or U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology, is expected to check up to 24 million foreigners each year, though some will be repeat visitors.

[…] In a pilot program at Hartsfield-Jackson that preceded Monday’s nationwide implementation, authorities turned up 21 people on the FBI (news – web sites)’s criminal watch list for such crimes as drug offenses, rape and visa fraud, Ridge said.

Homeland Security spokesman Bill Strassberger said that once screeners become proficient, the extra security will take 10 to 15 seconds per person.

[…] Under the program, photographs go into a law-enforcement database that eventually will allow users to pull up photos of visa holders and make sure they match the person who is seeking to enter the country. The travel data is supposed to be securely stored and made available only to authorized officials on a need-to-know basis.

Foreigners also will be checked as they leave the country as an extra security measure and to ensure they have not overstayed their visa or violated other restrictions.

A similar program is to be installed at 50 land border crossings by the end of next year.

[…] In Brazil, meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry started fingerprinting and photographing arriving Americans last week in retaliation. U.S. citizens waited for hours Monday to be photographed and fingerprinted at Rio’s international airport.

I’ll copy and paste my comment on this news at the Talking Dog.

While there is no civil liberties issue in denying entry to non-citizens or even finger-printing or photographing them, I think we haven’t given this whole thing as much thought as it requires.

This is part of the revolution in information systems and computing. We can now store a digital photo and fingerprints of most visitors to the US in a database along with info about their travels to the US. Similar or other data can be collected about all kinds of people whether visitors, permanent residents or citizens. As an aside, every applicant for permanent residency submits photos and digital fingerprints during the approval process nowadays.

The question is when we should collect such data; what data should be linked together; and what should be the limitations on such data. For example, the purpose of US-VISIT is national security but what should happen when a felon is found through this program?

Also, around 25 million people every year will be going through this process. A lot of these will be repeat visitors, but still we are collecting lots of info about a large number of foreigners. Where are we going with this?

Consider this: Will you be willing to submit your digital fingerprints and photo when visiting another country? For example, France? Israel? UK? Pakistan? India? China? Russia?

I think you get my point.

I am not a libertarian. So I don’t have any philosophical objection to such things. I think it might be a good idea for every country to fingerprint and photograph all visitors to check with terrorist etc. databases. But I would prefer that if there is no match, most of this info should be destroyed rather than kept in a database because I have pragmatic concerns about its use.

Also, take a look at the privacy policy for this program at the Department of Homeland Security website.

Back in Atlanta

I am back in Atlanta. School starts tomorrow today. End of vacation. This is going to be a really busy semester. Let’s see how much I can blog.

Why is it so warm here? Isn’t this supposed to be winter?

Holiday Movies

These holidays were spent mostly at home. Laziness and illness (both me and Amber) were to blame. The end result was that we watched a lot of movies.

  • American History X is a very good movie about a younger brother following in the footsteps of his older skinhead brother. Edward Norton was great as the older brother. Somehow, the racist dialogue repeating “facts” about minority crime etc. reminded me of some of the rhetoric of Godless Capitalist1.
  • Amores Perros does not try to mess with your head like 21 Grams with its convoluted timeline. But the move did not appeal to us.
  • Cold Mountain: Finally a romantic movie of my kind with many more shootings than kisses. It is a good movie. But what it desperately wants is to be a great one. Unfortunately there are too many flaws for it to be a great movie. Like Amygdala and Foreign Dispatches, the omission of African Americans and the issue of slavery is strange. I think it seems to be an effort towards a more romantic notion of the Confederacy. In addition, the lead couple (Nicole Kidman and Jude Law) don’t have much chemistry. This makes the single sex scene in the movie a bit out of place (not that I didn’t enjoy seeing the beautiful Kidman). Pace David Edelstein in Slate (SPOILER ALERT), I think the scene with Natalie Portman would have been better if the filmmakers had kept the original book version of it. The moral ambiguity there would have fit better.
  • Donnie Darko: I was wondering why I never saw this one in the theater and it turns out it didn’t stay there for long and was on 50 screens at best. It is a good sci-fi movie and I recommend it to everyone.
  • Finding Nemo: Excellent and very entertaining.
  • In America: This is the story of a family coming to America and coming to terms with their loss. It is seen mostly through the eyes of a young girl. I liked it very much and Amber says she loved it but she cried a lot. So a warning to guys taking their cry-able wives or girlfriends. The movie is actually bitter-sweet and not a tragedy.
  • Les Invasions Barbares: A very funny movie (yes, Amber cried even in this one). I think it is a French Canadian movie. I have a question for Canadians who have seen it: Are Canadian hospitals as crowded and corrupt as shown in the movie? Those hospital scenes seemed straight out of Pakistan.
  • Lola Rennt: Well, the title “Run, Lola, Run” describes the movies very well. Lola runs in this movie. A. Lot. This is a multiple scenario movie done reasonably well.
  • Monsters Inc is an OK movie.
  • Nirgendwo in Afrika is about a German Jewish family who escape to Kenya in 1938. A reasonably good movie worth watching. It is supposed to be based on an autobiographical novel. I have a question for people who know Jewish history better than me. You see, late in the movie after the war has ended, the family is thinking whether they should return to Germany. Were there any German Jews who returned to their old homes in Germany after World War II?

Continue reading “Holiday Movies”

History Book Recommendations

I usually alternate reading fiction and non-fiction. I have quite a few fiction books in the pipeline since I don’t care much about its standards if it’s interesting reading. However, I need to replenish the non-fiction books I plan to read this year. My current theme is history.

  1. Something about the India-Pakistan partition in 1947. I have read quite a lot of books on Indo-Pak history all of which focus on the politics of independence and partition. What I am looking for is a book that details the human cost of partition: the riots, massacres and the migration. May be something along the line of Benny Morris’ The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949.
  2. A good book about modern Japanese history. By modern, I mean 19th century and later.
  3. Books about slavery. I am interested in all aspects of it. Experiences of slaves, details about the slave trade, the politics of slavery in the Americas, Europe or the Middle East. Here are a few books I found while searching. Any comments about them will be appreciated. Also feel free to suggest other books.
  4. Some good books about African history: from precolonial times to the present. I know this is a really ambiguous. But I don’t know anything about sub-saharan Africa. I am looking for somewhat scholarly but not extremely dry books and not some pop-history. It’s not necessary that one book cover the whole continent; a history of one region would be fine as well. I found a couple of books from Tacitus:

I don’t like short history books written with some dimwitted ignoramus with a short attention span in mind. Details are good. Length is not a problem. However, the book has to be a somewhat interesting read and be accessible to a layman like me.