According to the US State Department, only 37% of Americans have a passport, compared to the British, who own passports at a rate of around 70%. Europeans tend to laugh at this discrepancy, while Americans chuckle and point out how even the biggest European countries would fit comfortably in some of our states; we don't need to travel between nations to get somewhere different.
After 9/11, the federal government decided that even travel between friendly nations, such as Canada, should require a passport upon return so more people are looking to get one these days.
The problem is, it's a bit of a pain. You can't just get a passport in your home town, you have to go to a big city. It takes a long time, costs quite a bit, and is only useful once in a while. Plus, it has to be updated regularly.
And lately, the State Department has decided they ought to make it harder. Edward Hasbrouk at Consumer Traveler reports:
The U.S. Department of State is proposing a new Biographical Questionnaire for some passport applicants: The proposed new Form DS-5513 asks for all addresses since birth; lifetime employment history including employers’ and supervisors names, addresses, and telephone numbers; personal details of all siblings; mother’s address one year prior to your birth; any “religious ceremony” around the time of birth; and a variety of other information. According to the proposed form, “failure to provide the information requested may result in … the denial of your U.S. passport application.”
One of the questions on the proposed questionnaire:
“Please describe the circumstances of your birth including the names (as well as address and phone number, if available) of persons present or in attendance at your birth.”
Under this proposed change, to get a passport, they want you to provide phone numbers of your employers, information about siblings, and so on. Look, I understand a desire for security, but with this and the child-groping searches in the TSA, it has clearly gone too far.
I don't even rightly recall all the places I've worked, or when, or who the boss was, and have no method of contacting most of them. Some of the places I worked for shut down and are no longer in existence. I don't remember all the dozen or so addresses I've lived at, or when.
To a certain extent, I can of understand the use of this to specifically and definitely pinpoint the exact person with a passport, but it also seems like a useful way to build a good government profile tracking peoples' history and movements over the years as well. Do we really want them to have that information so easily?
It's not like they can't get it, but they'd have to dig at it, and this would just hand the information over on a silver platter. This is more information than the federal government requires on a security clearance questionnaire; although to be fair, they do send out people to do background checks on those as well.
But all of this, for a passport? I don't even want one; I just thought it would be nice to have some time. If this is what I have to go through, I expect I'll hardly be alone in just not getting one.