Monday, February 19, 2007

ID rules inna Babylon: A police confrontation at DCA Airport

I have documented (at length) past successful attempts to fly without ID. In particular, on Northwest Airlines, it is possible to fly without ever showing a single piece of ID - whereas Continental, and American have required me to show 'some' form of ID - which included a prepaid credit card and my membership card to the local organic co-op supermarket. All of my previous experiences were based on the technique of claiming that I had forgotten/lost my ID. This was based on my very first experience last year, where a Northwest Airlines supervisor told me that the airline had easy procedures when passengers had lost their ID, and that if I instead tried to assert my right to not show ID, that I would just confuse their staff.

Flying without ID through the claim of a forgotten ID has gotten slightly stale - plus, I don't want to have to misrepresent myself. I would much rather be 100% honest, and tell them that I have an ID in my bag - but do not wish to show ID, and am asserting my rights.

Today, I tried to do just that - with TSA.

I printed out my boarding pass from one of the self-service terminals, told a NWA employee that I had forgotten my ID, and she wrote "No ID" on my boarding pass in a red ink marker without asking a single question. No problem.

I told the rent-a-cop checking ID's that I didn't have one, pointed to my specially marked boarding pass, and she, without batting an eyelid, sent me down the right hand lane at the security checkpoint - which is the one lane that leads to a puffer machine.

I declined to go through the puffer machine... Not a major problem - a supervisor had to come over - and once I told him that I wasn't legally required to go through the machine, he let me opt for a pat down instead.

Once the TSA guys started searching my bags, and wiping swabs against my possessions for chemical analysis - I started chatting with the agents. I told them I was used to the process, and that I habitually fly without any ID. They asked why, and I told them that I was asserting my right to fly without any ID - as documented by the Appeals Court.

It was at this point that things got interesting.

They notified their supervisor, who told me that if I wasn't willing to show them any ID, that they would have to bring in a law enforcement officer. She made it a point to mention that I could miss my flight due to this delay. No problem I said.

A Police Sergeant, Sonya Westbrook, with the Metro. Washington Airports Authority came over to chat. I politely explained that there was no law stating that passengers were obligated to show any ID to fly. I explained that I had happily submitted myself to a vigorous secondary search - which included a pat-down of my person and the hand search of my carry on bags.

Officer Westbrook told me that I had to show her ID. I asked her to confirm that she was compelling me to show my ID, and she agreed, and said that I had to show it.

I read the Hibel case in a privacy law class 2 years ago, and while the Supreme Court didn't do the most fantastic job of answering the question in the case (Court rules that you must tell a police officer your name, but the officer in the case actually asked Mr Hibel for his ID). In any case, the case was close enough to this situation that I pulled out my drivers licence, and showed an ID to Officer Westbrook.

She then called my drivers license number in on her radio, and ran some kind of criminal check against me, after again asserting that the law stated that I had to show ID to fly.

Jim Leonard, the TSA Security Manager at the checkpoint was also present (as well as some other unnamed TSA person in a suit) - who stated that he was filing an incident, and had one of his staff write down my license info, as well as the info from my boarding pass.

After all this was over, they let me board my fight.

This was a pretty unpleasant experience. Everything I have read thus far seems to suggest that you have the right to fly without ID. My past experiences have clearly demonstrated that if you claim to not have ID (something which any would-be terrorist can claim) - one should be able to board a flight without any problems.. However, if one attempts to tell the truth, and assert their rights, one can be met with threats and bullying from law enforcement and TSA.

I'll be writing to Officer Westbrook to ask her to cite the specific law which states that I have to show ID at the airport. I'll be interested to see how she responds.


Mike Kretzler said...

You're doing important work. I'd never have the nerve. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hiibel actually dealt with a state law regarding the duty to identify oneself to a police officer after a Terry stop based on reasonable suspicion. Not sure the case applies here for two reasons: 1) not sure what state you were in and the applicable laws, (or whether there might be some sort of federal law involved); and 2) don't see any facts or circumstances present which are sufficient to support a reasonable suspicion on the part of the officer that you were, or were about to be, engaged in illegal conduct. Without reasonable suspicion, I don't see any duty whatsoever to reveal your identity to officer. Caveat: you can beat the rap, but you can't beat the ride.

Anonymous said...

wyoming lawyer, TSA claims that entering a security checkpoint means the passenger has given implied consent to a search. Methinks the authorities would interpret this implied consent to eliminate the requirement for reasonable suspicion before a passenger is obligated to reveal his identity.

Anonymous said...

Very, very important stuff you're doing here--thanks a ton!

Anonymous said...

Oh, what a noble crusade you embarked upon there! Give me a break. I don't think you are doing important work. Rather I believe you are doing inane work. Just show your damn ID and deal with it! There are certain instances in which Big Brother is truly watching us, but in this case TSA just looks at your photo and matches your name to your boarding pass. i think you're just being difficult and pretentious for the sake trying to display "how the man invades our privacy." Puh-lease.

Anonymous said...

What a martyr you are.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I now realize
I was being a bit harsh in my previous comments. It was not until after I surfed around your site that I discovered you have done some (what appears to be) interesting work on issues of privacy. I still stand by my original statement though that you should have just shown your ID and moved on. That was a battle that I just don't believe was worth fighting. Sorry about the earlier crass comments. I was a bit too quick to rush to judgement. My bad...

Anonymous said...

Technically a private company such as an airline can just refuse to let you board can't they?