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Heads Up

Travelers, take this very seriously: the US Department of Homeland Security

Dr. Elinor Garely, eTN  Jun 20, 2010

(eTN) Warm weather stimulates the urge to travel. The desire to venture to faraway places with strange-sounding names becomes intense as June pushes against July and lands feet first into August. Along with the stimulus to move out of the neighborhood and to find new and exotic experiences, comes a desire to shed all reasonable sense of caution. It is summer, the weather is glorious; beaches and mountains beckon; and the idea of harm, crime, terrorists, and scams are pushed away; caution is set aside and replaced with risky behavior.

The US Department of Homeland Security is not on holiday, and their objective is to keep us safe. To aid travelers in keeping their wits in check, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have collectively developed safety guidelines that, if followed, may keep us out of harm’s way.


Paper Works

1. USA citizens traveling outside the country with plans to return home, must have approved and current travel documents (i.e., a valid passport). Without appropriate and approved documents travelers may not be permitted re-enter the USA.

2. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requires US and Canadian citizens (aged 16 +) to present a valid, acceptable travel document that shows identity and citizenship when entering the US by land or sea; travelers under 16 may present a birth certificate or alternative proof of citizenship.

ID Resources (

3. A radio frequency identification (RFID) enabled travel document (i.e., US passport Card) – acquired from the US Department of State.

4. Enhanced Driver’s License – available through the Department of Motor Vehicles in the states of Washington, Michigan, New York, and Vermont.

5. Enhanced ID Card – available through the Department of Motor Vehicles in the states of Washington, Michigan, New York, and Vermont.

6. Trusted Traveler Program card – available via US.Customs and Border Protection (Nexus, Sentri , and Fast).

7. Nationals or citizens of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) are required to have an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the USA under the VWP.


8. To avoid fines and penalties associated with importing prohibited items, travelers should become familiar with Know Before You Go. (

9. Be prepared for inspections: the request that travelers DECLARE ALL ITEMS acquired abroad is taken quite seriously! Do not wait until you are standing in front of an inspector to have purchases available for review. Do yourself and everyone else a favor - get organized before getting in line.

10. Knowing the difference between goods for personal use versus commercial use will expedite movement across borders and through checkpoints. (

11. Do not even think about bringing fruits, meats, dairy, poultry products, and firewood into the US from Canada without first checking legality.

12. During holidays seasons, all travelers crossing international borders should be prepared for a thorough inspection when entering the US from Canada. The CBP officer has the authority to conduct enforcement examinations without a warrant, ranging from a single luggage examination up to and including a personal search. If you are tagged – don’t argue – the traveler never wins!

13. To speed up the screening process, all travelers should have carry-on bags organized and readily available to security guards for review.

14. Liquid restrictions, the removal of shoes, and the screening of laptops continue to be enforced.

15. Families and travelers with special needs should seek out the Family Lanes for security screenings.

An Expert Opinion

Even if we all follow every single rule, it is likely that acts of terrorism will not be prevented, according to John D. Byrne of the Center for Aggression Management. Byrne found that the US Government Accounting Office (GAO) conducted a review of TSA’s behavior detection program and found that the “…TSA has bungled the development and deployment of a potentially important layer of aviation security.” The report states that “Since the SPOT [Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques] program’s inception, 17 known terrorists have traveled through eight SPOT airports on 23 different occasions. This includes Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber.”

Byrnes suggests that, perhaps, instead of checking shoes, shampoo, and underwear, TSA should follow the Israeli model, “In Tel Aviv, Israel, Ben Gurion Airport bridges the gap between profiling and protecting their passengers by interrogating every passenger, a method deemed inappropriate at the much busier Boston Logan Airport, because no one would make their flights...” Byrnes suggests that since Israeli security personnel “patently stereotype… their system in the US would never pass a challenge by civil libertarians.” According to GAO reports (as cited by Byrnes, May 25, 2010) – between May 2004 and August 2008:

• 2 billion passengers went through SPOT airport
• 150,000 were selected for secondary screening
• 14,000 were referred to law enforcement
• 1,100 were arrested
• 0 were arrested for terrorism


Is it possible that the rules and codes of conduct developed by Homeland Security have been developed to distract us rather than protect us? All members of the hospitality, travel ,and tourism industry, along with leisure and business travelers should seriously question the decisions made by the TSA and the CBP. As recently noted (i.e., BP oil disaster), government rules and regulations may not be valid, reasonable, realistic, or reliable when fully examined. Current airport screening programs are expensive and they take up our time and energy while producing very little results. This might be an appropriate time to ask for a Congressional review of rules that impact on the industry.

Travelers, take this very seriously: the US Department of Homeland Security
John D. Byrne, Center for Aggression Management / Image via

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