Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Endless Harassment of Travelers | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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As the summer season approaches and tourists prepare for their annual vacations, a legal battle has erupted between the United States and the European Union. This occurred after the European Union rejected a demand from the United States to receive detailed information about each traveler boarding a plane to America. The case is still pending as holidaymakers prepare to travel.

The information requested by the American authorities is not general information such as name, date of birth, gender, nationality, passport number etc, but rather requires the answers to approximately fifty detailed questions concerning the travelers address, planned visits and credit cards details. This private information is not available on the databases of different airline carriers and even passengers would be reluctant in handing over this information. If it were easy to obtain the necessary travel data such as ticket number, itinerary, or even a passenger’s general information, it would not be difficult for any company to reserve this information without having to bother passengers for their personal details repeatedly.

The truth is that what America has requested from the European Union is the very same information the US had requested from countries they’ve deemed suspicious, who are obliged to provide the American authorities with such information on their first visit to the United States. I had undergone the same procedures and it took me approximately twenty minutes to write down this information. However, the real question is whether this huge quantity of information is actually beneficial to preventing any future terrorist attacks.

Almost five years after the September 11 attacks, the inconvenience imposed upon travelers has remained a strong subject of debate on all levels. Security officials could justify their extremism regarding the tightening of security with the fact that terrorist groups have not been able to execute one attack in the United States since 9/11, despite the numerous threats made by the Al Qaeda movement. Security officials claim that the reason behind the failure of Al Qaeda’s attempts is the tight security measures that have been taken.

The other party in this story, namely the European Union, recognizes the importance of taking cautious procedures. However, it believes that the following and persecuting of travelers does not result in foiling terrorist acts but rather in reducing the number of tourists and traveling businessmen and students.

The procedures that have been implemented in the past, despite their severity, were applied because they did not affect certain countries. Nowadays, new measures are taken against European travelers who are stronger in affect, in number, and financially than the Arabs are, despite the propaganda against us.

The new discovery made by American security authorities proves that terrorism is no longer only associated to the Middle East, as proven by the July bombings in London, the Madrid bombings, and the arrests of citizens in the Netherlands, Norway, France, Italy and other countries. With the infiltration of Al Qaeda into Europe, authorities of the United States believe that it is time that Europeans are subjected to the same measures as travelers in suspect countries. Each side turned to their own courts for a decision. The European party stood against the American demand unless America accepted the same treatment of its travelers into Europe; however, the American court had previously refused to submit information about American citizens to European airline carriers under the pretext of protecting the legal rights of its citizens.

Despite this, security officials of both sides will win the battle and will not give up what they perceive as essential for protection. It is inevitable that millions of travelers will be forced to submit their autobiographies after arriving at the airport and not necessarily beforehand.