We'll say it again: The Visa Waiver Program is the greatest thing since we've been keeping track of great things. It needs to be nurtured and expanded.
A reciprocal system that allows citizens of the U.S. and 38 other countries to travel internationally without a visa is, in our view, inexpressibly valuable. So Rule One has to be: Don't mess it up.
Since 9/11, security hawks have occasionally looked askance at the program, but the government has managed to stick to Rule One and expand the program.
And from a security standpoint, it was strengthened in 2008 by the addition of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), under which prospective Visa Waiver visitors are required to go online, enter their passport information and await a (usually instantaneous) electronic authorization.
Critics at the time (including, briefly, Travel Weekly) feared that ESTA might be too much like applying for a visa and might be too much of a burden. In practice, however, it allowed the government to attribute a security benefit (prearrival screening) to Visa Waiver, and the program has continued to expand.
Now the government is adding several questions to the ESTA application, to find out if Visa Waiver travelers have aliases, dual citizenship or second passports.
For the vast majority of travelers, this won't be a problem, and if it will keep the security hawks at bay, we're fine with it, for now. But if we keep adding questions, the questionnaire could start to look like an interrogation.
And that would break the rule.