State Dept. Proposes Creepy, Impossible-To-Answer Questions for Passport Applications

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Not really sure what to make of this, other than that it’s disturbing:

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 statementstatement 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.

The new questions also ask for the names and contact information of all witnesses to your birth.

Reads like a tool to allow the State Department to turn down a passport when they can’t find a more legitimate reason.

(Via boingboing.)

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64 Responses to “State Dept. Proposes Creepy, Impossible-To-Answer Questions for Passport Applications”

  1. #1 |  Bot | 

    This is more appropriate an application to become president of the united states.

  2. #2 |  Bob | 

    “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.”

    What, you don’t remember that?

    What, you don’t have Commander Data like recall of every event? Photographic recollection of every address you ever resided at? Shit, I can barely remember what I ate yesterday. And I eat almost the same thing every day.

  3. #3 |  Leah | 

    Yeah, if you don’t fit into the cookie-cutter mom married dad, owns house, births in a hospital, has a baptism, etc that is going to be a huge problem. The homebirth community has problems already because states that don’t recognize midwifery make people do things like listing an attended birth as an unattended birth so that the midwife won’t be prosecuted. Is the State Dept run by birthers?

  4. #4 |  Bob | 

    This just smacks of “Good Christian ™” thinking. Good Christians ™ are always born to idyllic families that live in the same house all their lives until they are married to another Good Christian ™.

    What, you can’t remember where you lived when you were 5 or 10, because it’s not the same house you lived in when you were 18 and needed to write your address down on stuff? Well, then you’re not a “Good Christian ™.” You’re probably a drug addict. Or a porn addict. Request for a Passport denied, scum.

  5. #5 |  Kristen | 

    I don’t know what to say other than: what. the. fuck.

  6. #6 |  SJE | 

    The government often has completely inaccurate estimates of how much time it takes to collate all this sort of information….as if your tax return is not sufficient an example.

    Anyway, you could just write on your passport application: “ask the FBI, CIA and NSA, as they have been monitoring everything I did or said for the last several years”

  7. #7 |  Mattocracy | 

    “Reads like a tool to allow the State Department to turn down a passport when they can’t find a more legitimate reason.”

    I think you nailed it right there.

  8. #8 |  Chuchundra | 

    the State Department is proposing that the questionnaire only be required of those applicants who “submit citizenship or identity evidence that is insufficient or of questionable authenticity.” Conservative estimates are that that only about 74,000 persons per year will need to tear out their hair when trying to complete this form. That’s about 0.5% of passport applicants,0404-endelman.shtm

    I’m curious how the State Department handles those cases currently.

  9. #9 |  Symmetry | 

    For comparison, that’s much more difficult and invasive than what I had to fill out to get a security clearance – and that really sucked and pretty much took a full day to get together.

  10. #10 |  MassHole | 

    I would love to see an interview with the people that produced this insanity. There is no way you can defend this with a straight face. That said, how are they going to verify this bullshit? Are they going to compare it against IRS records to see if you forgot that one summer job 20 years ago that created a W-2? Are they actually going to call a former supervisor and ask his opinion on whether you are a US citizen? Contact the estate of the doctor that delivered you and ask if they recall who was working with their dead parent on 6/7/75? Religious ceremonies? WTF. Other than the obvious reason to deny for no good reason, what could this possibly be for?

  11. #11 |  Maria | 

    They say filling it out will take 45 minutes. They don’t mention how long it should take you to collect all the info! ;) Seriously, this type of stuff makes it hard not to just down the hyperbolic prison planet koolaid with my morning Irish coffee.

    I estimate that collecting 40% of that info would take me about 1 to 4 days. 50% would be 2 to 5 weeks. and the other 10%? Not possible to collect, in my case. Passport denied?

    Really though, don’t worry. It’s ok. The powers that be got our backs. They swear that such thorough and aggressive security measures are only for the extreme “special” cases that warrant such action! Exactly like it is with SWAT raids, random searches, and check stops. *coughs*

  12. #12 |  Dan | 

    Some fine print on the proposed form:

    ROUTINE USE: The information solicited on this form may be made available as a routine use to other government agencies and private contractors to assist the U.S. Department of State in adjudicating passport applications and requests for related services, and for law enforcement, fraud prevention, border security, counterterrorism, litigation activities, and administrative purposes. The information may be made available to foreign government agencies to fulfill passport control and immigration duties. The information may also be provided to foreign government agencies, international organizations and, in limited cases, private persons and organizations to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise address potential violations of law or to further the Secretary’s responsibility for the protection of U.S. citizens and non-citizen nationals abroad. The information may be made available to the Department of Homeland Security and private employers for employment verification purposes.

    Yup… that about covers it.

  13. #13 |  MIkeS | 

    Yes. The problem with getting passports was that the State Department was too fast in issuing them after you applied. It’s not like people had to wait for … oh, yeah.

  14. #14 |  Nick | 

    Insert joke from a birther about how President Obama would not be able to get a passport with this new form…. *here*

  15. #15 |  No Passports For You And Me - INGunOwners | 

    […] State Dept. Proposes Creepy, Impossible-To-Answer Questions for Passport Applications | The Agitator __________________ In Soviet Amerika, the Law violates YOU […]

  16. #16 |  Chuchundra | 

    Again, you only have to fill out this form if you don’t have the standard documentation that most people have to prove their place of birth and citizenship status. If you have a birth certificate, certificate of live birth, consular report of birth abroad or naturalization certificate, you do not need to fill out this form.

    Moreover, the information on this form is used so that DHS may do an investigation and confirm that you are who you say you are and that you were born in this country. As with most forms of this type, you do not have to fill out every line, but the more information you provide, the better chance you have of getting a passport.

    The questions on the form make more sense if you think of it in that context. For example, if your mother received pre-natal care and you know the doctor’s name and address, DHS can contact the Doctor, get your medical records, confirm the time and place of your birth and then you get a passport.

    The general freaking out over this is pretty silly.

  17. #17 |  alkali | 

    Looking at the proposed form, it appears that you only have to provide the information regarding the circumstances of your birth if your birth wasn’t recorded within a year or you weren’t born in a hospital or other medical facility. This is somewhat less crazy than requiring it of everyone, and not entirely new: In the 1970s, when my grandfather first obtained a passport, he had to obtain affidavits from people who remembered his birth, because he had never had a birth certificate and the church where he had been baptized (which might have been able to provide a baptismal certificate) had burned down.

    The parts of the form requiring provision of information about every job you have ever had and every school you ever attended do seem somewhat crazy.

  18. #18 |  Ron | 

    #4 @ Bob – hey lay off with the bigoted, gratuitous slams. As a Christian who had several of my children were born at home, I’m as outraged as anyone at the prospect of my children potentially running afoul of the obnoxious questions on the form.

    As others have posted, this form is just plain crazy and an outrage to anyone seeking a passport.

  19. #19 |  Aresen | 

    I would like to believe this is a hoax, but I find it difficult to believe that the Consumer Travellers Association would participate in such a hoax.

    Assuming it is not, I think you better get used to it and start documenting all the information for the proposed questionaire, because what is for ‘the few’ now will be universal later.

  20. #20 |  Storm | 

    Heck, I don’t even remember most of this information, and I seriously doubt, now that my parents are deceased, if there is ANYONE I know who would know some of this stuff. This is just doggone ridiculous.

  21. #21 |  Jason | 

    Are they going to add your religion to your passport???

    I see lots of 1st Amendment/Article VI challenges to this…

  22. #22 |  FridayNext | 

    @15 Chuchundra

    I remember when they first enacted seat belt requirement laws in my state. They told us the fine would be small. They told us it could not be used as a primary offense to stop a car, that it would only be assessed if you were pulled over for another reason. They told us it would not be used for PC to stop and search a car.

    Now they have seat belt checkpoints and all that other shit has been thrown out the window.

    They may say that there are only limited circumstances that this form will be used. This isn’t a slippery slope, it is a boulder that only rolls one way. The TSA and other federal government agencies have often stated that they believe travel is a privilege not a right and we have faced ever increasing invasive measures, all one step at a time so no one notices.

    It may be that this form will only be used .5% of applications, but I don’t trust, not for a second, that this percentage will not increase slowly over the next ten years to include everyone.

    When I see a news report of TSA rescinding a security measure, ANY security measure, I’ll start to feel differently.

  23. #23 |  Rune | 


    Bur Ron, he did not slam you. You are a christian, not a Good Christian™, there is a difference ;)

  24. #24 |  GÄC | 

    I have to echo the statement above about security clearances. Generally only have to go back 7 to 10 years (depending on the level of clearance) for those. I know it took me about a week to gather the info I needed to submit my paperwork for that. 45 minutes my big fat hairy …..

    If I ever have to fill it out, I’d be very tempted to put in the who was present at your birth box “an old priest and a young priest…”

  25. #25 |  Jeff | 

    I come from a cookie-cutter background and “Good [if nominal] Christian” family, and it is literally impossible for me (and, probably, anyone else, including my mother and father) to answer many of those questions.

  26. #26 |  tim | 

    This is more information required for most US Government background checks and I didn’t need to present my birth certificate. Filling out those forms also took a lot longer than 45 minutes (the last set took about 2 hours).

  27. #27 |  James J.B. | 

    Remember when there weren’t DUI checkpoints, seatbelt laws, GSA screenings, locked doors at schools? Remember when people flashed their highbeams to warn other drivers of cops?

    Well to today’s children those are all normal – their clock is set at zero with all of the above losses of liberty. Every one of these efforts becomes the new normal in about 5 to ten years.

    I imagine I will tell my children one day about how the internet and email were once free, how the used to just screen you at the airport, how the airport screening was a “simple” walkthrough screen, how the govt used to have to ask for the warrant….

  28. #28 |  Billy Beck | 

    “All addresses since birth…”

    Let’s see. A rough sketch, in order: Little Rock, Ark., Bangor, Maine, Little Rock, Ark., Tripoli, Libya, Springfield, Mass., Holyoke, Mass., Marietta, Ga., Honolulu, Hi., Waiahole, Hi., Shreveport, La., Little Rock, Ark.

    And that just takes me through high school (from 1956 to 1974). My father was an Air Force lifer NCO. Perhaps you could see the problem, here. I don’t have the addresses handy. I could probably dig them up, but there ain’t no “45 minutes” about it.

  29. #29 |  Charles | 

    Ditto on the security clearance. Before I joined the AF I had moved about 8 times in 4 years. A few of the places I didn’t have addresses for such as the “cabana house” and “girlfriend’s mom’s couch.” None of these prevented me from getting my security clearance.

  30. #30 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    “Remember when people flashed their highbeams to warn other drivers of cops?”
    Hell, I still do that. Let me guess, it’s a felony now.

  31. #31 |  Aresen | 

    @ Yizmo Gizmo | April 25th, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Yeah, probably ‘interfering with a law enforcement officer’ or something like that.

    Maybe a really ambitious prosecutor could turn it into ‘accessory to a crime.’

  32. #32 |  Maria | 

    “Remember when people flashed their highbeams to warn other drivers of cops?”

    Wait, what? That’s not done anymore? I still flash and am flashed routinely. Come on people, don’t stop flashing! Be a flasher!

    If i believe in gods, they are the gods of the road, their carmic (ha) wrath is legendary.

  33. #33 |  EH | 

    Is this how Palestinians became prevented from traveling?

    This has to be a hoax.

  34. #34 |  Mannie | 

    I have a fairly regular life, and I couldn’t answer half the questions. House where my mother lived? It was on Sterling Street, but I don’t know what town. It was a dark house with stairs, based on a crappy B&W photo in a lost photo album.

    Half my previous supervisors are dead. What telephone number shall I give? Address of employment? The factory at the end of a forgotten road under what is now a condo complex. I can probably give you a four digit grid coordinate.

    How do you describe the address of Uncle Caleb’s house up the dirt road off Pun’kin Holler Road?

    To quote Jay Marvin, a lunatic Chicago Talk Radio Guy, “I’ll not be happy until the last bureaucrat has been hanged from the guts of the last Al Qaeda.”

  35. #35 |  James J.B. | 

    Car lights – not a crime in pa yet. Though I know people who opine that “you are helping people break the law”

  36. #36 |  Lefty | 

    This is only for people who can’t provide a birth certificate. I think they’re pretty easy to get so if you don’t have one it’s a red flag.

    Of course I’d prefer a world where a government didn’t feel it had the right to regulate my comings and goings.

  37. #37 |  James J.B. | 


    For now. Wanna bet where we are in 15 years-

  38. #38 |  Frank Hummel | 

    I guess that really sucks for all the US born citizens. Us naturalized losers born in civilized western countries can continue to use our country of birth passports.

  39. #39 |  Billy Beck | 

    “…lifetime employment history including employers’ and supervisors names, addresses, and telephone numbers;…”

    That’s hilarious. As an independent contractor who’s worked as a stage-lighting rigger, electrician, director and designer for thirty-three years, I believe that it would take a whole office to research what I could come up with on this front. My employment has always been measured by the week. (Thirty-three years: think about it.) For instance: I once worked for Bonnie Raitt for three of ’em.

    In short: I am my employer and supervisor. Somehow, I don’t think they’re going to have an apparatchik’s box for someone like me.

  40. #40 |  Bob | 

    # #23 Rune:


    Bur Ron, he did not slam you. You are a christian, not a Good Christian™, there is a difference ;)

    Correct! I have nothing against Christians. Or Muslims, or Scientologists. Let’s face it, everyone is wrong about something.

    It’s when people apply their situation as morally superior and attempt to require everyone else to follow it I have a problem.

  41. #41 |  nemo | 

    This is about the same as the kind of crap I went though for a clearance.

    Then, they had an excellent reason for asking. This is just pure bureaucratic BS…and you have to wonder why?

    Fearing a growing exodus of wealthy soon-to-be-expats scouting foreign climes who are fixing to jumping ship?

  42. #42 |  Lefty | 

    – James J.B.

    Probably right. just like ss#s were never meant to be used to track us.

  43. #43 |  perlhaqr | 

    I’m in Billy’s shoes. .milbrat, and the last decade has been all independent contracting.

    It’s just not happening.

  44. #44 |  James J.B. | 

    Lefty –

    I didn’t even think of SSN. I have had one my whole life – But, that is it – these things are all about setting the high watermark – kinda like how the 8 – 15 people in the world set the prevailing price of gas/oil.

  45. #45 |  James J.B. | 

    today 4.25 so 3.00 isn’t a shock anymore.

  46. #46 |  marco73 | 

    I think an average person would have great difficulty filling out this application. So there will be some loopholes created. Like most loopholes, you will need to find a “fixer” would will walk your application through the passport process for a fee. Probably the fixers will be former government bureaucrats who helped create this application.

  47. #47 |  Chuchundra | 


    Indeed, and the biggest loophole of all is that if you have a valid birth certificate or other qualifying document, you don’t have to fill the form out at all.

  48. #48 |  Black Market | 

    Who knew that the birthers were in charge of passport applications.

  49. #49 |  Matthew Brown | 

    The concern of many at the linked site is that people who were adopted are generally given faked birth certificates at or shortly after the time of adoption with the adoptive parents’ info instead of the birth parents’ info. These in some cases at least will trip the “fraudulent” detector and make them have to do all this BS.

  50. #50 |  Phelps | 

    Ditto 16. This is for people with no documents. I got mine wihtout a photo ID but with a birth certificate by adding a form where my brother (with photo ID) swore that I was personally known to him and the person named on the documentation.

    This is for people who can’t even turn up a birth certificate. THEN they go into things like where were you born, who was there, were you christened, etc.

    It’s not as nefarious as it seems. In fact, I would say it is the minimum they should do in those situations.

  51. #51 |  Ken | 

    “t…he State Department is proposing that the questionnaire only be required of those applicants who “submit citizenship or identity evidence that is insufficient or of questionable authenticity, or when applicant has sufficient assets to be considered an expat risk.”

    FIFY. Clinton’s exit tax is back.

  52. #52 |  Bill Starr | 

    Have to wonder if that directive didn’t come out on April 1.

  53. #53 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 


    I have very little patience with the people you call “Good Christians”, but to attribute this kind of bumph to any kind of obsessive Christianity strikes me as a real stretch. State Department employees are – in my experience – divided into two major classes;

    1) Overeducated chinless wonders from the Best Families (Back Bay Boston and such trash), who attend High Status Church just often enough to not get disinherited (which, these days, isn’t all that often).


    2) Obsessive paper-pushing career job-holders, who barely believe in anything except their pensions.

    These are the mass, with a slight leavening of articulate Foreign Policy Wonks on the make.

    The last time “Good Christians” of the type you describe had a lot of influence at State was probably at least as far back as the administration of Woodrow Wilson (who was, himself, a bigoted, progressive elitist with ‘advanced’ views that would shock “Good Christians”….as well as the modern Liberals who think he was a good President), and maybe as far back as the administration of William McKinley.

  54. #54 |  supercat | 

    #49 | Matthew Brown | April 25th, 2011 at 4:39 pm “These in some cases at least will trip the “fraudulent” detector and make them have to do all this BS.”

    What should the State Department do if it is otherwise unable to determine the official circumstances of a person’s actual birth? I will readily admit that there really should be a means of generating an official redacted birth certificate when it is necessary to affirm certain information surrounding a person’s actual birth without necessarily revealing all of the potentially-confidential information surrounding biological parents, etc. but it seems better to have the State Department provide a means by which people for whom the official record is unclear can nonetheless demonstrate citizenship by a sufficient preponderance of unofficial records than to either declare that some people are just “out of luck”, or issue passports to anyone without proof of anything. Note that even open-borders libertarians should want the government to confirm people’s identities before issuing passports, lest other governments decide that U.S. passports aren’t valid as proof of identity overseas.

  55. #55 |  Chris C. | 

    Unlike Billy Beck, I’m not an independent contractor, but I am a salesman. I’ve had eleven employers since leaving the Army 33 years ago. Four are no longer in business, three more have been bought by foreign companies and undergone major changes (name, corporate structure, etc.), and two of the four remaining probably don’t remember me (many years have passed). I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Hell, I can’t even remember the names of supervisors past about 12 years ago (with a few Dilbertian exceptions).

    While I understand, from what others have posted, that this wouldn’t apply to me now, I also agree that bureaucratic creep will likely change that. (I live in Maryland, where the legislature routinely passes laws that they swear won’t be a primary offense, and makes them into such a year or two later with no evident shame.)

  56. #56 |  stevelaudig | 

    Perhaps I missed it but could someone provide the information that can direct me to how to make a comment on this proposed rulemaking by the Department of State? Usually when such things are proposed there is a comment period. I have some comments. I’d like to make in an attempt to derail this absurd proposal. I don’t mind showing my email address.

  57. #57 |  Rich | 

    It’s rare that the very first comment is the thread winner…

  58. #58 |  Tim Utz | 

    Just like TSA groping, when will American’s get a grip and stop the insanity. read how germany gave up liberty to Hitler and the political party.

  59. #59 |  Jerry | 

    I’m with Billy Beck, not only have I been in the Air Force when i was younger, I continued to move almost as much when I got out of the AF. Places I’ve lived:

    Bangor, ME; Brewer, ME; Laughlin AFB, Del Rio, TX; Subic Bay, Philippines; Edwards AFB, CA; Bangor, ME; Vernon, CT; Bangor, ME; Bucksport, ME; Bangor, ME; Odenton, MD; Brewer, ME; Bangor, ME (moved twice during this time frame); Springfield, VA and Leesburg, VA.

    one of the places I worked after I got out of the military ended up being an EPA Superfund site and was demolished and is a grassy field. LOL

  60. #60 |  So Wait A Minute... | 

    …if you insult a Christian by making the distinction between the “Good Christian” and the “christian”, do you also uphold the “african american” and “Nigger” distinction?

  61. #61 |  Steve | 

    If one were to want a relational database of everyone, one would want all the connections possible for each individual. Anyone remember TIA? See link in the name.

    I don’t think they have given up on their datamining dreams.

  62. #62 |  Papers, Please! » Blog Archive » Public outrage at proposed questionnaire for passport applicants | 

    […] The Agitator (Radley Balko): State Dept. Proposes Creepy, Impossible-To-Answer Questions for Passpor… […]

  63. #63 |  FreddyJ | 

    Isn’t asking about circumcision getting pretty close to religious discrimination? I mean seriously, who needs to know?

  64. #64 |  Video Squeeze Pages | 

    @ FreddyJ – How would that be discrimination? They are simply asking for information to confirm your identity, not allowing or disallowing a passport based on whether one is or isn’t circumcised.