Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


How Long To Be Identified?

Today I spent nine (9) (no, that’s not a typo) hours in line to apply for a passport.

What happened was, since the U.S. changed the rules to say everyone’s gotta have a passport, a lot of Americans and Canadians who were used to going back and forth between the countries suddenly needed passports, and the systems are buckling under the strain. (Hmm… I wonder if Mexico’s is as well?)

My passport’s good till July, but I’m traveling a whole bunch and don’t have much time here in Vancouver. Last Monday, April 3rd, was the start of two no-international-travel weeks. I’d heard about the line-ups but had no idea, so I went down there after lunch and got in front of a human being by 3:30. She sent me away because I was applying for an expedited passport but hadn’t brought documents to prove I was traveling. When I told people this story they were astounded, saying the only way to be sure of getting in on any given day was to be waiting at 6AM when the building doors opened.

So writes Tim Bray in “Passport Hell.” I figure that if a day’s time is worth $100, and every Canadian needs to get a passport to enter the US, this will cost the 30 million people of Canada $3 billion. That’s ignoring the roughly $100 cost of each passport (total, $6 billion), and the $100 is just about minimum wage for a day. Still, it seems an awful lot to pay to make Canadians all have more bits of identification.

The photo is of Japanese Americans waiting in line, courtesy of the US government. It’s from “Camp Harmony” exhibit at UW Libraries.

[Update: clarified writing around estimates.]

[Update 2: Yoshi, in comments, calls my use of the original photo here insenstive and offensive. See the comments for my thinking, and I’ve moved the photo out of the post so as not to be offensive. Apologies to those who were offended.]

10 comments on "How Long To Be Identified?"

  • "G. Washington" says:

    Who wants to go to the USA these days? Not me!

  • yoshi says:

    How does waiting in line to update a passport to travel outside the country that would be needed anyways remotely related in any way to forcing Japanese Americans into internment camps during WWII?

  • Adam says:

    The rounding up of Japanese citizens was done with data collected for the Census, and its use was illegal. As governments around the world are collecting, storing, and distributing more and more data, some of it will be used against those from whom it’s collected.
    I actually didn’t set out to find such an image. It came up on a search for “standing in line,” and I decided to use it.

  • yoshi says:

    This isn’t the census – its a guy who can’t plan waiting for a passport to travel outside the country. And while I agree in principle on the issue of the dangers of collecting and exchanging (frequently wrong) data – that wasn’t your point. You cited the cost of the program not the collection of the data.
    Using a picture of japanese american’s being interned with this particular story is insensitive bordering on stupid.

  • Wes Injerd says:

    Let’s study some background history, folks — there’s way lot more to the whole issue than you think you know.

  • Chris says:

    I renewed mine several months ago by mail. No hassles at all. Plus, no RFID. That was a very nice surprise. How come you had to do it in person?
    Your math on the cost to the people of Canada is questionable. It is doubtful that every Canadian will have a foreseeable need/desire to visit the U.S.

  • I recently renewed mine at the local post office. Granted, you have to be in the US to do this. The entire process was maybe 30 minutes and I had a passport in 2 weeks.

  • Adam says:

    Something like 85% of the population of Canada lives within 50 miles of a border with the US. Since Canadians have long been able to visit with less paper, it seems rational that a lot of Canadians will want a passport to preserve their ability to travel. All? Clearly not.

  • Iang says:

    I am glad that Americans and Canadians are experiencing hell. The rest of the world has had to suffer these things, because the US Govt. forced it on an unwilling world. The only way to show the cost, it seems, is to make US voters suffer. I’m all for it, how can we do more?

  • Iang says:

    Just to add to my grumpy comment of last night … I recently lost an entire month and hundreds of euros in a similar story, and I’m not out of the woods yet.
    Why? Ultimately, because Pres. Bush suspended Habeus Corpus, and various agencies, governments, and officers around the world did their bit to help him. The requirement to assist bounced around 3 countries until it hit me. The result was a bureacratic request for “more papers” that is literally intended to allow a government to avoid following the law that was imposed on them by the parliament and reinforced by the highest court.
    Yoshi, you’re safe for now, if you have the right papers. The picture can be safely ignored, for now.

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