Privacy groups oppose U.S. passport biographical form

A host of human rights organizations and privacy activists are asking the U.S. State Department to withdraw a proposal to make some passport applicants fill out a lengthy questionnaire.

The questionnaire seems to be of the type usually reserved for applicants into some of the nation’s secret services. One question seeks the address of the applicant’s mother in the year before he or she was born. In addition, the questionnaire seeks all prior addresses, a full employment history, names of work supervisors and other details.

The groups which have filed to block this document, DDS-5513, said that an applicant selected to fill out the form would have to know the name of his or her supervisor when the applicant worked at McDonalds as a teen.

The State Department said via email in a response to a comment that the biographical questionnaire is not designed to replace the standard DS-11, Application for a U.S. Passport, but rather to supplement it only when the applicant submits citizenship or identity evidence that is insufficient to meet his/her burden of proving citizenship or identity. The Department estimates that such supplemental information will only be requested for a small number of applicants, perhaps less than half a percent of the applications it receives annually, it said.

In a filing with the Federal Register the department estimated that about 74,000 persons a year would have to fill out the form. The department estimated that this would take about 45 minutes.
The privacy and rights groups say it would take 100 hours and require the hiring of private investigators to answer the form fully.

“The department understands that some of the information requested is quite detailed,” the State Department said. “However, in those instances where an applicant cannot provide sufficient proof of citizenship or identity, it is important for the applicant to provide additional information which will help establish the applicant’s United States citizenship or identity.”

The form is before the Office of Management and Budget for approval.

A 22-page objection came from the Consumer Travel Alliance, the Identity Project, the Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights, Knowledge Ecology International, the Center for Media and Democracy and Privacy Activism, as well as two individuals.

The organizations say that the State Department does not have the legal authority to impose such a document on passport applicants and that the document could be applied subjectively, perhaps even on those who filed objections during the approval process.

The corporate parent of A.M. Costa Rica also filed an objection via email in which it questioned the failure to let expats overseas know about the proposal.

The company did not take a stand on the document itself due to lack of information.

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