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Fortress America

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"Fortress America", the January 6, 2004, article by AlterNet's Farai Chideya , begins with the statement "I'm glad I got to see the world before it closed up shop."

The reason for this being that, on that day, as Chideya says, "the United States began photographing and fingerprinting non-U.S. citizens as they entered the country." Named US-VISIT for "United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology", the program is intended to target an annual "estimated 24 million individuals [who will] have to pass two finger scans and have their photographs taken as they enter the United States" in the hopes of catching "terrorists and those who overstay their visas."

Following the events of September 11, 2001, "the financial prospects for biometrics firms have soared. In much the same way that the war on Iraq has improved the fortunes of military outsourcing firms like" the Halliburton Company's "subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root, our nation's response to the September 11 attacks is feeding the coffers of biometrics firms - for an uncertain reward." According to Tom Ridge, Director of the Department of Homeland Security, "'As the world community combats terrorism ... you're going to see more and more countries going to a form of biometric identification to confirm identities.'"

Further evidence of the "fortressing" of America, the article points out, was experienced during the 2003 holiday season, when "the United States blocked or delayed several international flights into the country because of security concerns. Ultimately, no arrests were made, and the government admits there may have been no terrorist plot to begin with. In fact, some of the flights had spelling errors on their passenger manifests that caused the delays. More specifically, a test of the US-VISIT program in Atlanta screened over 20,000 passengers and found just 21 people with suspicious records. None of them were suspected terrorists - rather, they had been convicted of prior offenses including statutory rape."

Quite possibly, as the article suggests, the US-VISIT program may well "deter legitimate tourists and hurt an already ailing airline industry." In general, the "tightening of global travel restrictions sends a message to Americans that the world is as closed to us as the United States appears to be to those on the outside," which adds to "the already rampant paranoia that the world is merely a dangerous (and not also a wondrous) place and the only safe haven is a gated community within a shuttered nation."

Chideya concludes: "Our country is becoming a fortress of our own devising, both psychologically and tangibly. ... We can't expect special treatment on the global stage. If we restrict access to the United States, others will restrict our access to the world. And that would be a devastating shame. In an era of terror, anger and recriminations, one of the healing balms is a one-on-one connection with people of other nations. We cannot heal the rifts in this fractious world by hiding in our domain. No screening program will make us absolutely secure. And if we retreat - attempting to become an island fortress - we will endanger not only our humanity, but our long-term security as well."

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