Tuesday, May 13, 2008

ID Not Required!

This comes from my friend Phil Mocek. I've reprinted it here with permission unedited.

Hi, everyone. Sorry for the rather impersonal mass mailing.

Some of you, namely KU basketball fans and Kansas Citians, have undoubtedly already seen this, but I'm pretty excited about it and want to bring it to others' attention: On Wednesday, April 9, 2008, the  Kansas City Star ran a front-page article [1] about my efforts to stand up for our right to travel freely in this country without being monitored by our government.

[1]: <http://www.kansascity.com/105/story/567590.html>

Inspired by people like John Gilmore [2], Chris Soghoian [3], and my friend Ben [4], I've been flying without identifying myself to TSA agents for a couple years, and after my last flight to Kansas City, I filed a complaint with the TSA about signs posted at the airport [5] that falsely state that travelers must present photo identification before crossing the security checkpoint.

[2]: <http://papersplease.org/gilmore/>
[3]: <http://www.cnet.com/8301-13739_1-9769089-46.html>
[4]: <http://oblivion.net/~ben/journal/?entry=725>
[5]: <http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmocek/2349302702/>

After receiving a response from TSA [6] confirming that there is no requirement that people show ID for domestic flights (and not mentioning anything about fixing the signs), I got in touch with the right people, and the next thing I knew a reporter from the Kansas City Star was interviewing me.  At the time I had no idea it would end up on the front page, much less on a somewhat-commemorative "National champion University of Kansas basketball team returns home to big parade" issue that was surely in the eyes of many people who wouldn't otherwise pick up the paper.  (That a picture of me, someone who would rather watch paint dry than sit through a basketball game, is likely to end up on the walls of hundreds of KU fans is particularly delicious.)

[6]: <http://papersplease.org/wp/2008/03/31/id-still-not-required-to-fly/>

I feel pretty strongly about this issue and hope that you'll give it at least a little consideration.

If you're so inclined, please read on for my best newspaper-friendly summary of why I've been doing what I do.  I submitted this to the Star today and very much hope that it is published by them as an op-ed. Judging by the interest the story seems to have generated in KC, I think  there's a good chance that they will do so.  If they do, I'm going to do what I can to get one of the Seattle papers to pick it up, and I also have a connection at the AP who might be interested.


While flying out of Kansas City last year, I saw TSA signs at the airport stating that travelers must present government-issued photo identification.  I knew that wasn't true, and I didn't show ID. I neither caused trouble nor slowed things down for other travelers when I asserted my right to travel without checking in with the government by identifying myself; I was taken out of line to be screened along with other "selectees".

After returning home, I filed a complaint with TSA.  I received a response from Jeanne Oliver, Associate Director of TSA Office of the Executive Secretariat.  She did not indicate that TSA would fix the problem, but did confirm that if a traveler is "unwilling or unable to produce a valid form of ID, the traveler is required to undergo additional screening at the checkpoint to gain access to the secured area of the airport."  People who show ID receive a less-thorough screening.  Any time saved when people volunteer to show ID comes at the cost of less effectively checking them for dangerous items.

We're being lied to about federal air travel policies by airport security at KCI and other locations, and it's not making us any safer.

Government agents requiring people to show ID before boarding a flight wouldn't make air travel any safer.  It's relatively easy to get a fake ID, and regardless of how much technology we put into ID cards, a criminal will be able to purchase a fake one or steal someone else's identity and get a real ID with his picture and the other person's name.

We can and do call upon TSA to ensure safe air travel by preventing people from carrying dangerous items onto flights.  TSA's current practice of allowing people who show ID through security with less  screening than other people receive contributes to a false sense of security, breeding complacency among passengers, crew, and TSA agents.

I acknowledge that the inconvenience of showing ID is trivial.  My concern is that a requirement to show ID would allow the government to monitor and restrict our travel.  Our courts have established that   people in this country have the right to travel and associate without being monitored or stopped by the government unless they have been convicted of committing a crime or are suspected -- with good reason -- of having committed a crime.  They have ruled that we cannot set up roadblocks and checkpoints to stop everyone who passes just to catch the few who have done something wrong, or to find the few who are suspected of intending to do something wrong.

Recent Congressional testimony suggests that over 900,000 names are now on the United States' so-called "terrorist watch list".  Many people who have found themselves on the list are U.S. citizens who have no ties to any terrorist organization.  There is no appeals process for those who have been blacklisted.  We are not allowed to know who is on the list, who put them there, or why they were put on it.

If these people pose a danger to others, why don't we go arrest them instead of waiting for them to present themselves at the airport, then hassling them or preventing them from flying before sending them on their way?

Even if we could prune the list so that it included only people who actually pose a "known" threat, potential terrorists could probe the system by sending people on innocent trips, observing which ones were subjected to additional screening, then later sending the other people on a real terrorist mission.  Restricting travel based on an ID check simply cannot improve security.

People can show their ID to whomever they want, whenever they want to do so, if it makes them feel safer.  My doing so doesn't make me feel any safer.  When a government agent asks me to show my papers or searches me, I feel *un*safe.  It reminds me of descriptions of life in the former USSR, where identification was required upon demand, movement was restricted, and people either kept quiet and did as they were told, or risked disappearing into the night, never to be heard from again.

When I see security guards in airports wearing what look like police uniforms and demanding identification, and police on our streets wearing what look like military uniforms, driving DHS-grant-funded armored vehicles, marching in riot gear with machine guns, pepper-spraying and
Tasing peaceful demonstrators, it makes me feel like I live in what is approaching a totalitarian state.


ydna said...

The kansascity.com link is already "404'd". Naturally. It's vanished into their archive site and not freely linkable anymore.

Either way: Go, Phil!

chuckwolber said...

Yeah, I noticed that too, but figured it was a good idea to post what he said unedited.

And yes: Go, Phil!