What was the real reason behind yesterday’s U.S. Customs delay that stranded thousands of travelers and left the immigration process at a standstill across U.S. airports?
Rampant speculation that Russian hackers or other nefarious actors were responsible has been at the heart of this story. In any case, U.S. border processing of incoming passengers slowed to a trickle from 5:00 pm EDT until just before 9 p.m. Forced to use an “alternate” system, passengers were processed at a fraction of the normal (already cumbersome) pace.
Today, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has dispelled the notion there was malicious intent behind the system breakdown last night. Instead, it was “merely” a software update.
Changes the agency made Dec. 28 to software used to process travelers caused the glitch that shut down the agency’s systems from 5 pm EDT until about 9 p.m. on Monday, as many holiday travelers returned to the United States.
“At this time, there is no indication the service disruption was malicious in nature,” CBP said in a statement.
On the one hand, it is comforting that there was no malicious action behind the disaster last night. On the other hand, perhaps it is even more problematic that a small “glitch” in a software update can shut down the U.S. immigration process…or Air Traffic Control (ATC)…or even an airline.
Infrastructure is a big problem in the USA. Of course, roads, bridges, and dams may be the flashpoint, but antiquated systems across the public-private spectrum cost time and money each year and will only become more expensive to service if maintenance and upgrades are perpetually deferred. Last night showed that the U.S. needs big solutions, but how?
Consider the high UK Passenger Duty when departing from the United Kingdom. It tallies £146 ($178) if you are flying in a premium cabin on a longhaul flight. Can you imagine the uproar from consumers and airlines if the already-high taxes on airline tickets more than doubled?
Thus we face a dilemma. Pay more now or pay more later?
Until we can reach a solution, these sorts of technology breakdowns will continue to happen. I don’t even subscribe to the notion that spread-out America needs rail systems like Europe and Asia. Still, the outmoded technology that undergirds so much of our life will continue to cause trouble if left to further deteriorate. Higher taxes alone may not be the answer, but this is the sort of national investment everyone should get behind.