The Washington Post reports that residents of the 27 countries who do not need a visa to visit the United States will be required to register online with the U.S. government at least 72 hours prior to departure, according to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
"Rather than relying on paper-based procedures, this system will leverage 21st-century electronic means to obtain basic information about who is traveling to the U.S. without a visa," Chertoff said. Officials said the program is similar to one in Australia.
U.S. officials say the change will shrink a security loophole. U.S. customs and border authorities already receive electronic passenger manifest information from airlines 15 minutes after departure on U.S.-bound flights. But screeners can use the added time and information to conduct more thorough checks and keep unwanted persons from boarding planes and ships.
The requirement is an effort to provide more time for U.S. officials to check on passengers.
The article also states that the European Union is studying whether this measure is equal to a visa and whether it will impose a similar requirement on Americans visiting European nations. Authorities currently receive passenger manifests only 15 minutes after departure on U.S.-bound flights.
Dutch member of the European Parliament Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert is quoted in the article as saying the effort "contributes to an atmosphere of general distrust" and that, "Transatlantic cooperation between the intelligence services is the only way forward, not the massive collection of data in general."