Tuesday, April 26, 2011

No Passport For You! -- Not Quite.

Glenn Beck doesn’t like to be accused of looking for “booger bears,” so I won’t.

The top story today on Glenn Beck’s…well, almost everything is about proposed State Department form DS-5513, “Biographical Questionnaire for a U.S. Passport.” Glenn is weirded out by some of the questions that it asks—and there are some weird ones—but the speculation he engages in because of it sounds like a part of the FEMA camp conspiracy theory that he worked so hard to debunk

“Why doesn’t Gov want you to have a passport?” his website asks. On radio, Glenn put it this way: “Who is it that won’t be qualified—or won’t be allowed to get a passport to leave the country?”

That the form would only be issued to “some” applicants is not a relief to Glenn but a sign of the ominous because, as the form states, “failure to provide the information requested may result in … the denial of your U.S. passport application.” Ya think?

“Who are they trying to trap here?” Glenn asks. Enemies of the president, he muses, or Tea Party members. He goes on to offer that, rather than deal with undocumented people living in the shadows in America, the government may just “make all Americans undocumented.”

But Glenn’s biggest fear is not simply that someone’s passport will be denied. It is that they will go to jail for being unable to fill the form—which certainly is lengthy—in its entirety. More on that later.

So, is this as yet unimplemented form—described as “bizarre” “creepy” even “Kafkaesque”—really the lowering of an Iron Curtain over America? Not likely. The reality is that this proposed form is intended to “establish the identity and/or citizenship of a passport applicant who has not submitted adequate evidence with his/her passport application.” A supporting statement additionally clarifies its purpose as preventing passport fraud and misuse by non-U.S. citizens or individuals using an assumed identity.

To be fair, Glenn frames the whole conversation as speculation. However, the depth to which he delves into the subject easily obscures those half-formed opening remarks. His typical style is to explore new stories in this manner so as to stay topical while buying time to fact-check. But this story broke over a month ago on the Identity Project’s website and it was already loaded with facts. Compare that to the story on the Blaze which offers scaremongering backed up by other people’s scaremongering.

Throughout his diatribe, Glenn urges his listeners to “look this up for yourself.” Well, I did, and I found plenty wrong with Glenn’s information. At the outset, Glenn challenges his listeners to fill out the form in under 45 minutes which, according to him, is how long the State Department says it takes to fill out. But a more careful reading of the supporting statement would reveal that the department estimates each form will take 45 minutes to process.

The gag line taken from the Village Voice is that the form asks whether you are circumcised. While it does reference circumcision, it is only as an example of a religious ceremony that may have accompanied your birth. This could be handy if your parents were of the extremely religious sort which doesn’t believe in hospitals or birth certificates or electricity. Just sayin’.

In what can only be called “citation by proxy” the Blaze pulls a quote from BoingBoing which contains a statement by something called “the FA.” This entity, which I cannot identify, worries that “the circumstances in which people unable to provide a birth certificate will be given this form (rather than the traditional bureaucratic investigation) are not spelled out.” Now, in what world is a generic form not preferable to a bureaucratic investigation? I’m all for keeping a keen eye on the government, but the issuing of passports is one of its legitimate functions. Besides, it is always the burden of the applicant to establish his/her identity and citizenship. In other words, if someone wants to keep you from getting your passport, they don’t need this form.

And regarding Glenn’s biggest fear: it is not even a possibility. As the form itself states, “False statements made knowingly and willfully in passport applications or in affidavits or other supporting documents submitted therewith are punishable by fine and/or imprisonment” (emphasis mine). You can go to jail for lying, but not for omissions.

Yes, the form asks for a lot of information that people don’t normally keep track of. But based on my experience with government forms, I would guess that anyone making a good-faith effort to fill this one out will be rewarded with a passport with their smiling face on it. I cannot guess how many “official forms” I have left blanks on, not because there was no information to fill in, but because I could not remember it. That has yet to come back and bite me because the rest of my information was correct and adequate. And I am sure the same would apply here.

Finally, even get the stated deadline to comment on DS-5513 is wrong. The Blaze says that it was yesterday, but 60 days from February 26th is actually April 27th. So, if instead of grousing, you want to actually talk to the folks in charge, you had better hurry. Nothing like waiting until the last minute, huh?

Before I posted this, I took a look back at Glenn’s website and found this update:

A State Department Official told Glenn’s producers, “The Biographical Questionnaire for a U.S. Passport, form DS-5513, is a supplemental form that an applicant may be asked to complete when information supplied on the application for a U.S. passport is insufficient to support passport issuance.”

“Where the information provided in an application is insufficient, rather than deny the application automatically, we ask for additional information to help an applicant prove his or her identity or citizenship.”

While not being able to answer a question would not preclude an applicant from being issued a passport, the official said, “Passport adjudicators will consider the information derived from the form in its entirety to confirm identity and citizenship, the two elements required by law for U.S. passport issuance.”

The goal of the new questionnaire is to stop people from obtaining passports through fraudulent means, as a passport is “gold standard among identity documents”.

I assume that Glenn got this update posted as soon as it was possible, and for that I am glad. I hope that he leads his show tomorrow with this clarification. All the same, for a man who makes such a great deal about fact-checking and avoiding crazy theories, I am disappointed that he jumped so eagerly into this topic.

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