Welcome to the USA

The new ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorizations) that the US has instituted is really, really lame. Everything about the system screams, “Stop! Don’t come here! You are a suspicious foreigner and we don’t want you.”

Check out this insane message that pops up on the website before you can even start:

You are about to access a Department of Homeland Security computer system. This computer system and data therein are property of the U.S. Government and provided for official U.S. Government information and use.  There is no expectation of privacy when you use this computer system. The use of a password or any other security measure does not establish an expectation of privacy.  By using this system, you consent to the terms set forth in this notice. You may not process classified national security information on this computer system.  Access to this system is restricted to authorized users only.  Unauthorized access, use, or modification of this system or of data contained herein, or in transit to/from this system, may constitute a violation of section 1030 of title 18 of the U.S. Code and other criminal laws.  Anyone who accesses a Federal computer system without authorization or exceeds access authority, or obtains, alters, damages, destroys, or discloses information, or prevents authorized use of information on the computer system, may be subject to penalties, fines or imprisonment. This computer system and any related equipment is subject to monitoring for administrative oversight, law enforcement, criminal investigative purposes, inquiries into alleged wrongdoing or misuse, and to ensure proper performance of applicable security features and procedures. DHS may conduct monitoring activities without further notice.

That’s boilerplate, of course. I’ve seen it on other US government sites. But it’s stupid, and those somewhat legitimate disclosures should be handled some other way.

Then once you clear that screen, you are met with this stern notice:

International travelers who are seeking to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program are now subject to enhanced security requirements. All eligible travelers who wish to travel under the Visa Waiver Program must apply for authorization using the following process… (emphasis mine)

Note the unnecessarily militant and suspicious tone. Why is it there? Who wrote that? What kind of person had final editorial control on this, a key touch point in the brand of USA?

For a comparison, take a look at the equivalent site for visas to the UK.

I feel bad for my country. How did this happen? How did we lose our sense? How did we lose our connection to our neighbors? How can we stop being the grouchy-old-man neighbor and once again be a respected leader among our peers? When will our hideous attitiude towards foreigners finally reveal the American dream as broken and corrupt? When will we lose the incredible gifts of the immigrants who built the USA?

By my employment, my residence, and my marriage, it seems I’ve given up and turned my back on the USA. I know some people who have in fact done so. But I haven’t. Each time I see the US through the eyes of those outside the country, I am sad and embarassed for my country. I just know of no other way to take action than to live my life the most honestly and respectfully as I can, as an expat who’s proud to be American, and proud to show what it means to be American even far from home.

Update: I happened to be enjoying a fine piece of American culture today, and came across this quote:

You don’t have to believe in your government to be a good American. You just have to believe in your country.

Think about it.

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