If you don’t want it to get even harder for a U.S. citizen to get a passport — now required for travel even to Canada or Mexico — you only have until Monday to let the State Department know.
The U.S. Department of State is proposing a new Biographical Questionnaire for some passport applicants: The proposed new Form DS-5513 asks for all addresses since birth; lifetime employment history including employers’ and supervisors names, addresses, and telephone numbers; personal details of all siblings; mother’s address one year prior to your birth; any “religious ceremony” around the time of birth; and a variety of other information. According to the proposed form, “failure to provide the information requested may result in … the denial of your U.S. passport application.”
The State Department estimated that the average respondent would be able to compile all this information in just 45 minutes, which is obviously absurd given the amount of research that is likely to be required to even attempt to complete the form.
It seems likely that only some, not all, applicants will be required to fill out the new questionnaire, but no criteria have been made public for determining who will be subjected to these additional new written interrogatories. So if the passport examiner wants to deny your application, all they will have to do is give you the impossible new form to complete.
It’s not clear from the supporting statement, statement of legal authorities, or regulatory assessment submitted by the State Department to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) why declining to discuss one’s siblings or to provide the phone number of your first supervisor when you were a teenager working at McDonalds would be a legitimate basis for denial of a passport to a U.S. citizen.
(Note that the proposed form itself was not published in the Federal Register. The Identity Project was eventually provided with a copy after requesting it from the Department of State, and posted it here.)
Here are the comments (PDF) being submitted by the Consumer Travel Alliance and other consumer, privacy, and civil liberties groups and individuals, if you would like to use it for ideas for comments of your own. (They’re also available in OpenOffice format for easier editing.)
Extra points to the person who gives the best answer in the comments to the question on the proposed form, “Please describe the circumstances of your birth including the names (as well as address and phone number, if available) of persons present or in attendance at your birth.”
[Update: More than 3000 people and several organizations submitted comments opposing the proposal in the final days before the deadline. Those comments raise further concerns: It appears from some of the comments that the State Department is already using a version of this form, without the required OMB approval.]