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Business Traveller

Are Passports Passe; Traveling Through Border Crossings Without a Passport; Using Biometrics for Borderless Travel; Getting Fast-tracked in Basel, Switzerland.

Aired August 09, 2008 - 09:30   ET


RICHARD QUEST, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to CNN BUSINESS TRAVELLER. I'm Richard Quest, this month reporting from the top of the Stanserhorn Mountain in Switzerland.
Why am I here? Because this is the crossroads of many European countries. Just over there is the Black Forest in Germany. There on the mountain it's France. If you go in that direction, before long, you're in Austria and Italy.

Travelers here are crisscrossing borders every day, willy-nilly, without let or hindrance. Elsewhere in the world, it's not quite so easy. So on this month's program, we're all about BUSINESS TRAVELLERs without borders.

Coming up, borderless travel. It's visa-free and easy. We look at the ways to take the hassle out of travel.

The biometric boom. Is the loss of privacy a price worth paying?

And getting fast-tracked in Basel "From Sunrise to Sunset."

Let's start by giving you details of some major changes that will effect millions of visitors to the United States.

We're all familiar with the green visa waiver form. The form is about to become obsolete. Instead, we'll be expected to apply online for permission to travel before we depart.

There's no need to get panicked about this changes. Although they were introduced this month, they are voluntary until the end of the year. They only become compulsory in mid January. It is, though, worth understanding what the changes are and how they will affect you.

The name sounds simple enough, ESTA. It stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. But it amounts to the biggest change for travelers to the U.S. in 25 years.

Millions of citizens, from 27 countries, including much of the European Union, Japan and Australia will no longer fill in the green visa waiver form on the plane. Instead, they will go online to receive permission to travel before starting their trip.

KATHY KRANINGER, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, there are about eight million unique travelers, foreign travelers under the visa waiver program who come to the U.S. currently. and we expect that to expand, but that gives you some idea at least of how many people we'd expect to apply over a year.

QUEST: Once you're authorized to travel, you can visit for up to two years or until your passport runs outs, whichever is sooner. The U.S. is encouraging visitors to apply as soon as they make travel plans in case the application requires more inquiries. And the authorities recommend no later than 72 hours before the departure.

Even so, ESTA has been designed to cope with those late bookings and emergencies.

KRANINGER: The system is fully capable, so you can accommodate that last minute application as well. So there's no challenge with that whatsoever. It's just recommended for you own peace of mind I suppose when you're planning to do it in advance.

QUEST: ESTA doesn't change the rules for countries whose citizens currently need visas to enter America, such as Poland. The U.S. has promised to increase the number of nations covered by the scheme, but has not said when.

They call this spot Three-countries Corner. It's the point at which Switzerland, Germany and France all come together. The actual border is right in the middle of the Rhine. But you'd be hard pushed to know about it because people, goods and services go backwards and forwards effortlessly every minute of everyday. It's an example of the European Union and the Schengen agreement all working as it should.

These days, whether it's in Europe or the Gulf or in Asia, politicians and business alike are all pushing hard for true borderless travel.

E.U. citizens have the right to travel freely between member countries, as well as Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, usually without a passport.

Under Schengen, the country you will first visit issues the visa, which is then valid for all. There are significant exceptions, such as the U.K. Make sure you understand the small print of the Schengen visa.

Across Asia, 17 countries, from Chile to China, have signed up to the APEC business traveler's scheme.

The Gulf Corporation Countries have introduced a smart card program, which will eventually replace passports.

In North America, your entry to the United States is made easier if you enroll in trusted traveler programs, like Nexus for Canadians and Sentri for Mexico.

Soon to arrive will be the global entry scheme, which will link the U.S. to biometric databases around the world. Borders, it seems, are falling fast.

With all this talk of borderless travel, you might now be wondering what happens to the mighty passport, the document that, for centuries, has been our key to opening up the world.

The very words "passport" says it all. Forget ships and shores. The passport was used to get through the gates and the walls of cities. For instance, here at Augusta Aurorica (ph), in Roman times near Basel. Well, look, that important border today is nothing more than an ancient relic in suburbia.

Is the same thing going to happen to this document? Is the passport passe?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her Britannic majesty's secretary of state requests and requires...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the name of the president of the Republic of India...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To pass without delay or hindrance...

QUEST: There was a time when this strong language actually used to mean something, protection and assistance, the hallmarks of the passport.

One of the first such documents was a letter issued by the king of Persia in around 400 B.C. asking for the protection of its traveling officials.

Fast forward a millennium, and kings and queens, presidents and ministers were issuing documents, getting permission for their citizens to travel.

The arrival of the railways in the 19th century made crossing borders quick and easy. And passport design became standard. It usually included the diplomatic language, French.

Most of us travel on ordinary passports. Diplomats use a special version. Then there's the lessez passir (ph), not really a passport at all. It's issued by international organizations, like the United Nations, that their officials can use.

One thousand years in existence, the passport is still the most important single document we carry. It lets you go abroad, then brings you back home.

After the break, eyes or hands, handing over personal details for hassle-free travel.


QUEST: The actual border between Switzerland and France, outside Basel. And welcome back to CNN BUSINESS TRAVELLER as we're looking at borderless travel. For instance, this tram goes backwards and forwards between the two countries several times an hour. What could be easier than crossing a border this way?

Governments of friendly countries are going to great lengths to make crossing borders easy. Unfortunately, bureaucracy and logistics mean that in airports themselves, there's still much work to be done.

If only all passengers could be treated this way -- a terminal dedicated to one airline, where bags are weighed, bordering passes handed over, then straight through to security.

The reality is, even with online check in, self-service kiosks and bag drops, misery remains, lining up every step of the way before and after the flight. Wouldn't life be lovely if you could push your way to the front?

And if you're a U.S. citizen, for $128, you can do just that with the CLEAR card, part of the traveler scheme run by the U.S. government. Passengers who sign up agree to have their identities checked and their fingerprints recorded.

STEVEN BRILL, CEO, CLEAR: It's a hassle-free, predictable way to deal with what has become a great frustration. If you fly, as our people do, once a week, then it's worth it. I mean, you know, you're basically spending less than the cost of a cup of coffee.

QUEST: Schemes like this invariably come at the expense of the other passengers in the line. Even those brazen passengers may feel a bit uncomfortable pushing their way to the front.

TIM SPARAPANI, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: It makes it all the more difficult for everybody else who is in the rest of the lanes to actually travel. The lines get significantly longer. So what we have is we have people who are stratified by economics going through security lanes.

QUEST: What about a program that benefits everyone?

Giovanni Bisignani, the director general of IATA, believes security and identity checks can be made simpler.

Now there's not a lot we can do here. This is all just straight forward.

GIOVANNI BISIGNANI, DIRECTOR GENERAL IATA: This is an easy line. You can pass those seat (ph) checks if you have to check something. The most important thing is have certain kinds of standards because passenger does not know if he has to take out his computer, the belt in, the belt out, shoes in, shoes off. Standards are very important to make the process much more easier.

QUEST: Shoes? All right, we're dressed to go now.

BISIGNANI: How can we improve this? First, with standards. But check in with IT. We have now some digital gate equipment where you can be screened without being undressed and unpacked.

QUEST: You're never going to get that across all airports. The cost of the equipment is so huge.

BISIGNANI: When we started, the bar coding pass, it was $5,000 for each machine. The new machine is just $1,000. So as soon as we implement and we harmonize the standard, the price goes down.

QUEST: But governments don't want to take the risks until they are forced to do so.

BISIGNANI: For this kind of process, as we, airlines and passenger, you will save $6 billion a year. Security has improved by far. But it's still expensive and it's a hassle for the passenger.

QUEST: Here is the part where you have to show, before you board the plane, your passport and your boarding pass. What do you want to do here?

BISIGNANI: We want to get rid of this, of the passport. To identify the passenger in a different way so that you are able to board with this and you go through the gate being identified with biometrics -- iris, facial recognition or fingerprint. My idea is to try to board with your fingerprint. It is possible. We have the right technology. It's a matter of coordination and harmonization with governments.

QUEST: If you are right, Giovanni, this means creating vast databases where we give our fingerprints.

BISIGNANI: Yes. It's a risk that the passenger has to run. If he wants to go through a fast-track, this is what he has to do. If no, he goes through the process because there's no way to improve it.

QUEST: And so you have, for every airline, every airport, every government agency, to have your fingerprints.

BISIGNANI: As a passenger, I would be much more pleased to be able to board quickly. And I have no risk and no concern in giving my fingerprints.

QUEST: With 2.3 billion people flying every year, the way in which we get through airports needs a radical rethink.

What is the difficulty in getting, even within the European Union, or between the U.S. and the E.U., to all agree on a single standard? Why is it so difficult?

BISIGNANI: Government and agencies do not talk with them among themselves, not in Europe. But if we're able to find a single standard in Europe and United States that would cover 60 percent of the traveling traffic. And that would be a great achievement.

QUEST: Let's see if they'll let us back into Switzerland.

Giovanni Bisignani is right. As frequent fliers, if we want hassle- free transport, then we're just going to have to accept an encroachment upon our civil liberties. The issue is, at what point does that price become too high.

Fingerprints, iris scans, PNRs, or passenger name records, every time we travel our identity sloshes around the world in airline databases, in government computers. And they are all starting to talk to each other. It's not surprising that civil liberties experts are concerned.

SPARAPANI: We think of people who have been fingerprinted as part of the criminal process. And yet, what the government, post-911, here in the United States is trying to do is create databases not only of fingerprints but of irises, of retinal scans. And every time we collect these databases, we turn everyday, law-abiding people into criminal suspects. And that's just wrong.

QUEST: The U.S. government is at the forefront of this move with the new ESTA authorization system. It says it needs this level of data for security and the privacy rights can co-exist with proper safeguards.

KRANINGER: We actually are required to issue privacy impact assessments and a system of records notice under our privacy law. So those documents clearly outline who this information can be shared with, how it can be used and how it's stored and how long it's retained.

QUEST: Even if these protections prevent governments' misusing the data, there's still the risk that terrorists and criminals hacking into systems can make off with your identity.

JOHN VERDI, ELECTRONIC PRIVACY INFORMATION CENTER: If you lose your passport, you can have a new passport issued with a different number on it. If someone steals your fingerprints, you're going to have an incredibly difficult time reclaiming your identity because they're the only fingerprints you have.

QUEST: Then there's always the question of whether or not the systems will work as planned. Or are we destined for digital discomfort?

VERDI: Fingerprint technology has a baseline error rate of around 5 percent. Face recognition has error rates that go as high as 50 percent according to some studies. And that's simply unreliable, particularly when you compare it to human's natural ability to verify passport data.

QUEST: It's a classic case of competing interests, the needs of security battling the compromising of our privacy. And most of us experience both sides of this battle. Today, I may be the traveler wanting speed in process. Tomorrow, I'm the outraged passenger whose data has been leaked.

Coming up after the break, digital DIY. Is this the answer to the self portrait, or is the XShot a gimmick best left at home? We'll tell you in a moment.



Now that's a fine looking statue. Well worth taking a picture for the album. You know how this goes. There's no one around. I'll have to do it myself. Smile.

There's one thing I can be guaranteed of and that is the picture won't be very good and I'll be disappointed. So let me introduce you to this. It's either the best thing since sliced bread or the biggest waste of time. It's called the XShot. It will enable singlehanded photographers, like me, to take their pictures and have those mementos from those business trips. This could revolutionize the way I take my pictures. Is it a "Smart Traveller Tip"?

Now that's where we're headed, right to the top, Stanserhorn.

The magnificent mountains of Switzerland are a perfect opportunity to try out the XShot.

Now that's nice.

So far, so good. Now let's see what sort of happy, snappy shots these tourists can take.

Why don't you see if you can take a picture of yourself using the (inaudible)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good deal, come on.

QUEST: All right. All right.

Right, now, let's see what that looks like.


QUEST: This clearly requires some effort.

Thank you very much. Ten seconds.

We seem to be getting the hang of it.

There you are. It works.

No timer? Oh, no timer. Big problem.

XShot works with small ones, big ones, even camcorders.

And we can show people all what's happening left, right and center. Over there we've got the mountainside. Over here we have the restaurant.

Ready? Now try to look happy. Try to look you're happy taking a nice picture. Oh, yes, there you are.

Now, look at your picture. Look at that.


QUEST: So what about the XShot? I've taken a very large number of bad photographs in the past few days as I've got used to it. When you have a display and you can see yourself, then it really does work remarkably well. And you can take some marvelous pictures of you in all sorts of situations.

Is it worth it? Well, frankly, the XShot is cheap. It's very compact. So, yes, I would say it's a "Smart Traveller Tip."

The XShot is a snapshot for today's tourist. Excavation is a snapshot of history in borderless Basel 2,000 years ago. I'm back at Augusta Aurorica (ph), delving 2,000 years ago. It's one of the things you can do here "From Sunrise to Sunset."

You don't have to dig deep here before you stumble upon some ancient bric-a-brac. More than one million objects have been unearthed here. But so far, I haven't struck gold.

This is interesting. What's this?

KATHY AITKEN, HISTORIAN: Well, we'll have to dig it out to see exactly, but it's obviously a bit of ceramic, obviously some pot or other. I think that would be the handle there.

But because we are very systematic in the way we dig, we'll have to wait until that's been recorded before we can take it out and have a good look at it.

QUEST: It's too tempting. Let me at it.

AITKEN: No, no, no.

QUEST: Why is this exciting for you?

UNIDENTIFIED HISTORIAN: Two thousand years ago, nobody touched it. And I'm the first to touch it and the first to find what has been here in former times.

QUEST: It just takes a long time to find it all.

If patience isn't your virtue, then pop on a toboggan across the border in Germany. But beware. It's a fast and furious ride down.

Here we go. Hey. Whoa.

You think when you get on this thing that you're going to leave the breaks off and see just how fast you can go. Let me tell you, you do no such thing once you're up and running.

They won't go faster than 42 kilometers an hour, and that's pretty fast.


So it takes, on average, three to four minutes to get from top to bottom. Don't get stuck behind a slow coach. At Stanserhorn, there's no lanes for overtaking.

By the time the sunset comes, you've probably forgotten which country you're in. You've been crossing borders back and forth so frequently. This dinner cruise on the Rhine is a very good way to have three courses in three countries.

On board Christopher Marin (ph), I dine while floating along the borders between three nations. It's first course in France, dinner in Deutschland, ah, sweets in Switzerland. And if the date is right, a bonus awaits.

And as Switzerland now celebrates her national day, that's CNN BUSINESS TRAVELLER for this month. I'm Richard Quest, reporting from Three-countries Corner on the Rhine, with Germany, Switzerland, France all around me.

Wherever your travels may take you, I hope it's profitable. And I'll see you next month.