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Sunday, June 22nd 2008

TSA Now To Require ID To Travel

Despite The Signs You See, Until Now You Did Not Have To Show ID

You’re about to have to pull out that driver’s license to board a private airplane.

Despite attempts by the Transportation Security Administration to convince you otherwise, you were not required to show government identification to board a plane as long as you were willing to undergone secondary security screening. Such was affirmed by a lower court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Gilmore v. Gonzales (here’s the opinion in full). Largely, the court said that because Gilmore, or anyone else, could choose between showing identification OR undergoing more thorough security screening that the TSA rules did not violate his right to privacy.

But you can throw that reasoning out the window now. CNET’s Survelliance State blog has good coverage of what is going on, but essentially starting Saturday, June 21st you will no longer be able to refuse to show government identification in order to board a plane.

Beginning Saturday, June 21, 2008 passengers that willfully refuse to provide identification at security checkpoint will be denied access to the secure area of airports. This change will apply exclusively to individuals that simply refuse to provide any identification or assist transportation security officers in ascertaining their identity.

This new procedure will not affect passengers that may have misplaced, lost or otherwise do not have ID but are cooperative with officers. Cooperative passengers without ID may be subjected to additional screening protocols, including enhanced physical screening, enhanced carry-on and/or checked baggage screening, interviews with behavior detection or law enforcement officers and other measures.

Excuse my French but this is fucking bullshit. The idea that only when it is a passenger engaging in a little act of civil disobedience and ‘willfully’ refusing to show ID is it unsafe to let them on a plane without an ID is obviously ludicrous.

It is no longer outlandish to start making tangential analogies to the internal passport systems of repressive regimes the world over (for example here and here).

There are two major points to make.

First, while I have trouble with the government monopolization of the road system, this requirement is not analogous to having to hold a driver’s license in order to be able to drive. In general, I only have to identify myself to officers of the state when there is reasonable assumption I’ve done something “wrong” (such as observation that I may be driving while intoxicated). As well, while driving I’m making use of a public utility (the roadways).

I would have absolutely no trouble (at least if the government didn’t artificially restrict the number and actions of commercial airlines), if private airlines made the determination that you had to show ID and undergo various security screenings in order to board their planes. But the government requiring me to identify myself to undertake a wholly private endeavor is ludicrous and should offend this entire country, especially considering the second major point below.

Second, the liberties we have sacrificed since the terrorist attacks of September 11th have made us essentially none the safer. I think those that believe that, because of the efforts of the Transportation Security Administration, September 11th is less likely to happen in 2008 than it was 2000 are deluding themselves. The Transportation Security Administration is dysfunctional.

The documented failure of airport security checkpoint screening procedures has gotten much media. Last November government agents, under the banner of the Government Accountability Office, snuck through 19 airport security checkpoints with the components of explosive devices.

The GAO said its investigators also tested the devices that could be built with the components they smuggled and discovered that “a terrorist using these devices could cause severe damage to an airplane and threaten the safety of passengers.”

The GAO investigators devised two types of devices: an “improvised explosive device” made of a liquid explosive and a low-yield detonator, and an “improvised incendiary device” that could be created by combining commonly available products prohibited in carry-on luggage.

Other challenges of airport screening by the Congressional Research Service, by staffers of individual members of Congress have all revealed similiar results. These are the exact same kind’ve issues facing airport security prior to 9/11, prior to the Transportation Security Administration, back when airport security was staffed by private contractors.

In defense the director of the TSA Kip Hawley told Congress during one of his testimonies,

TSA chief Kip Hawley defends the administration’s policies and procedures, saying that the screening checkpoints are but one of a “multilayered approach to security.”

“We recognize that, despite our efforts to make each layer as strong as possible, a concerted effort may target any one layer,” according to the testimony. “Our ongoing success is a result of the tremendous power in the reinforced, multiple layers. Truly, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts — and together, they are formidable.”

But many of those other steps don’t seem to be working either. A big component of that ‘multilayered approach to security’ is pre-screening. Everyone is probably at least somewhat familiar with the no fly list. This effort at identifying people who may be a danger before they even get to the airport has been a disaster. We should all be offended by the numerous, well publicized false positives the list has created. For instance Senator Ted Kennedy was on a list for a while, so was this five-year-old boy, an army Lieutenant Colonel, even a deployed Marine trying to fly home from Iraq.

This violation of liberty should be intolerable, but there is an argument that such is acceptable as long as the list’s sensitivity is high (i.e. it catches the actual bad guys). Such however has not been the case,

The 11 British suspects recently charged with plotting to blow up airliners with liquid explosives were not on it, despite the fact they were under surveillance for more than a year.

The name of David Belfield who now goes by Dawud Sallahuddin, is not on the list, even though he assassinated someone in Washington, D.C., for former Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

True the TSA has scrapped the CAPPS II program and started over but that is unlikely to solve the problems inherent in attempting to pre-screen passengers. Pre-screening passengers, whether off of predeveloped lists or by evaluating individual characteristics prior to boarding, is highly ineffective and currently makes you essentially no safer every time you get on a plane.

Our Best And Brightest

Despite initial promises to the contrary airport security screeners are not required to have even a high school diploma but I’m sure anyone who flies often could’ve told me that from their anecdotal observations. This allowed a whole bunch of the pre-9/11 screeners working for private contractors to be grandfathered in and just keep their old jobs. Here are the TSA’s requirements for security check point screeners, I hope you now feel safer.

There are plenty of other concerns about flight safety especially about the screening of air cargo. I’ll forgo delving into that but know that the problems with airline security do not stop merely with what I’ve gone over in this post.

Going over the failures of the Transportation Security Administration isn’t the most compelling argument as a libertarian. It doesn’t address the philosophical liberty versus security argument at the heart of the issue. The most obvious counter is that we need to do more, need to sacrifice more liberty and spend more money until airport security reaches some subjective threshold of efficacy. But that subjective level of security that paranoid Conservatives seek simply may be impossible. I think there is clear evidence that the cost versus security scale, when it comes to airport security, is a logarithmic one.

The More You Spend On Security The Less You Get Per Dollar

Take for example this study looking at the cost versus benefits of screening all baggage versus the baggage of “selectees” (i.e. high risk individuals). Granted we’ve already discussed the failure of pre-screening attempts, but the study does prop up the idea that absolute security (or anything near it) will be cost prohibitive. If the TSA cannot do much better than it currently does without unrealistic spending, then are the liberties we’re sacrificing really worth such minimal security benefits?

Thanks TSA for all your hard work.

Photo: Nick Gray / CC 2.0 License