Last year I went to a meeting on the east coast of USA. I applied for an ESTA, and when the application form asked for a "U.S. point of contact" I put down the work address and phone number I had for the meeting organizer.

Now I'm going to the west coast for a different meeting. My ESTA is still valid, but there's no way to update the point-of-contact information.

It is quite well known that I don't need to update this information. I don't doubt this. (At least I very much hope they're not going to call the guy who organized a meeting in Boston last year if there's a problem with my entry at San Fransisco next month ...)

But I'm curious: Why do they ask for this information in the first place, when it will predictably be out of date for many arriving travelers? Is there any official word on what this is for?

[Note that this is a different field in the application than "address while in the U.S." which I can change for a subsequent trip].

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    @pnuts: No -- I'm curious what they do that for. I don't think this question discloses any opinion that I could conceivably be fishing for agreement with. – Henning Makholm Oct 14 '16 at 16:49
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    @pnuts knowing the purpose of the "point of contact" question could help people to decide what answer to give. – phoog Oct 14 '16 at 16:54
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    Probably nothing more than bureaucracy, building content/history within a database. If you can't find the organizer's info, years on, you could ask the gov't to look it up for you. – Giorgio Oct 14 '16 at 17:11
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    @pnuts: Let me quote, then: Constructive subjective questions inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”. Though actually I don't think this is a subjective question at all, so those lists are pretty much irrelevant no matter which of them we quote from. More to the point would be: if your motivation is “I would like others to explain ______ to me”, then you are probably OK. – Henning Makholm Oct 14 '16 at 17:36
  • One might ask what's the point of ESTA in the first place if it can be subverted by entering overland via Mexico. Bureaucracy, security theater, waste of taxpayers money are the likely explanations. – JonathanReez Oct 15 '16 at 17:22

Presumably the same reason as on the other forms, like the DS-160:

Your U.S. Point of Contact can be any individual in the U.S. who knows you and can verify, if necessary, your identity.

They also request the relationship you have, if any, to the person.

From my own assumptions, this would be to also check your reason for visiting - if your point of contact is say, a girlfriend, they might just double check your reasons for coming (are you trying to stay/work?).

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    Many VWP travelers won't have anyone in the US who knows them and can verify their identity, though. – Henning Makholm Nov 14 '16 at 11:18
  • @HenningMakholm yes, the link covers that case too. – Mark Mayo Nov 14 '16 at 12:08

According to the ESTA frequently asked questions:

Why is it necessary to expand the amount of ESTA information being collected from VWP travelers?

Since 9/11, the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) has evolved from a travel facilitation program concerned about the threat of economic migration to one with more robust security standards that are designed to prevent terrorists and other criminal actors from exploiting the Program.
DHS must be agile and vigilant in continually adapting to evolving threats and hazards. DHS has not made a significant upgrade to the ESTA application in the six years that the system has been in operation, despite a significant evolution in the terrorist and criminal threats to the United States. DHS has determined that the additional data fields to the ESTA application will enhance DHS's ability to screen and more accurately and effectively identify travelers who pose a potential security risk to the homeland.

So the official explanation is that it helps the US fight against terrorism. However I presume the actual explanation is the need for a security theater, rather than any valid concerns. Don't look for any real rationale as there isn't one - it's simply an example of bureaucracy collecting information for the sake of collecting it.

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    This does not address the particular "U.S. point of contact" item. – Henning Makholm Oct 23 '16 at 12:36
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    @HennimgMalkolm don't look for an explanation as there isn't one – JonathanReez Oct 23 '16 at 12:38

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