Gartner Blog Network

US Open Government Does Not Work for Visitors

by Andrea Di Maio  |  July 20, 2010  |  3 Comments

As part of my job I have entered the US countless times, always using the visa waiver program and with my proper Electronic System for Travel Authorization.(ESTA). Every time I have been welcomed warmly and professionally by Custom and Border Protection officers: there is always a smile, a sense of respect and willingness to help, and some sort of coolness in how they work, despite the hordes of people, some of which do not even speak English.

Until yesterday.

When leaving Canada for the US, the US immigration is on the Canadian side. I was flying to the US to attend an internal company meeting, and I said so when requested by the CBP officer. Then she asked me about the nature of my job.and, in order to make things easier (I thought) I said that I am a consultant and not an analyst. I had used that term many times when requested by immigration officers around the world, including the US, and the only country that gave me troubles was Canada (but on the way in) as they are afraid that people may try to work illegally or maybe do something for which a national should be chosen.

When I said “consultant”, the officer changed attitude, saying that I should not enter the US under the visa waiver (funny, I’ve done that for my entire life). When I asked what would be the right procedure, she becameĀ  rude and unfriendly, barking that it is up to my company to decide. I found that weird, so I asked whether I could do something with the embassy next time I leave for the US: I got the same reply, only in a nastier tone.

No problem, she was probably having a bad day and my passport full of stamps from all over the world, including the middle east, probably looks a bit suspicious. What I found disturbing, though, was the fact that she scribbled my name and passport number on a piece of paper, most likely for some unknown follow up.

This made me reflect about the CBP customer relationship management. How can I know what happens after yesterday and if the officer has triggered some case I should be aware of? Just a couple of weeks ago I had asked whether I could know when my ESTA approval expires and I was told that there is no way but apply again. Another time, when I had to return an entry form that had not been removed from my passport upon departure from the US, it was difficult to figure out what to do and I had to mail it to a rather mysterious address in the US (without any proof of receipt) rather than to an embassy.

I know that being let into a country is a privilege and I do appreciate that border protection is key to homeland security. However in all three cases I was trying to do the right thing, and in every case it has been like swimming upstream.

I understand I am not am American citizen but with all this talking about open government, can I enjoy a bit of transparency and figure out what to do?

Category: e-government  

Tags: open-government  us  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
15 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies strategies, Web 2.0, open government, cloud computing, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

Thoughts on US Open Government Does Not Work for Visitors

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by anked and Andrea DiMaio, Nahum Gershon. Nahum Gershon said: RT @AndreaDiMaio: US Open Government Does Not Work for Visitors – #gov20 #opengov […]

  2. Philip Allega says:

    Please be comforted in the knowledge that the US/Canada border crossing is well-known to be confrontational for Canadian and American citizens going in either direction. You may have just experienced this historic challenge at a very tough border crossing. My only comparable experiences have been in Narita when coming from a Southeast Asia country beforehand. I’ve been questioned harshly by both US and Canadian officials when travelling between the 2 countries. Perhaps a bad day, but perhaps a normal day at a tough border.

  3. Robin Wilton says:

    In one sense, this is a classic illustration of a challenge faced around the world by governments moving towards “open” or “e-” services delivery. From the service-provision perspective they want to present users with the appearance (and sometimes even the fact!) of consent and control over their data and how it is used.

    On the other hand, from the law-enforcement perspective, the paradigm is one of maximising consent-less data collection and linkage.

    Unfortunately for you (and me) as a visitor to the US, the predominant use-case for the CBP folks is the law-enforcement one… so there is little focus on making the user-facing, service-provision interface a transparent and accountable one (in fact, if you read the green I-94W form next time you have it in front of you, you will probably notice that it isn’t just a visa waiver, it also includes a waiver of all your rights to dispute the CBP official’s decisions regarding your entry).

    In the interest of balance, I should point out that, as far as I can see from the adjacent queue, non-residents passing through the corresponding process on arrival in the UK don’t seem to have a particularly nice time either… ;-(

Comments are closed

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.