Wednesday, February 21, 2007

No ID: A letter to the DCA Police

Sergeant Sonya Westbrook
Police Department
Reagan National Airport
Washington, DC

CC: US Senator Jim Webb, US Senator John Warner, US Congressman Virgil Goode,
Virginia Delegate David Toscano, TSA Director Kip Hawley,

Dear Sergeant Westbrook,

I am writing to you to follow up on our conversion at Washington Reagan National Airport on February 19 2007.

On February 19 2007, you were called over to a security checkpoint where I was undergoing "secondary screening" by TSA checkpoint staff. I held a valid ticket on a Northwest Airlines flight to Indianapolis, and a boarding pass that had been marked "No ID" by airline staff. I requested this special pass at check-in, as I did not want to present ID to TSA staff. During the secondary screening process, TSA screeners called you over, at which point, you compelled me to show ID. The purpose of this letter is to get information about your demand that I show you my ID.

In September of 2006, I flew to Washington DC from Indianapolis on Northwest Airlines. I told the check-in agent that I was asserting my right to fly without showing any ID, and would be happy to submit myself to additional screening measures. To help things along, I brought a copy of the US Court of Appeals (9th Circuit) opinion in the case Gilmore vs. Gonzales, so that I could point out the specific text which states that passengers can fly without ID. The supervisor at the Northwest check-in desk spoke to me in an attempt to understand my intentions. She then suggested that in future trips, that I should claim that I had forgotten/lost my ID. She said that Northwest staff were clearly trained to work with passengers in this situation, and that it would be easier for me, and her colleagues, if I gave this reason for not showing ID. She advised me that attempting to assert my right to fly without ID would just confuse her staff, and that Northwest staff would print me out a "SSSS" (secondary screening) boarding pass whenever I needed one, without any problems or delay, as long as I presented my situation in such a way that their staff could easily understand what I needed. I documented my experience that day here:

The US Court of Appeals (9th Circuit) opinion in the case Gilmore vs. Gonzales states that: "As noted, we have reviewed in camera the materials submitted by the Government under seal, and we have determined that the TSA Security Directive is final within the meaning of § 46110(a). The Security Directive “imposes an obligation” by requiring airline passengers to present identification or be a “selectee,” and by requiring airport security personnel to carry out the policy. The Security Directive also provides a “definitive statement” of TSA’s position by detailing the policy and the procedures by which it must be effectuated (page 1148)"
It later stated that "The identification policy requires that airline passengers either present identification or be subjected to a more extensive search. The more extensive search is similar to searches that we have determined were reasonable and “consistent with a full recognition of appellant’s constitutional right to travel" (page 1155)." The full opinion of the court can be viewed here:

I have flown without any federal photo ID at least 8 times in the past year, on multiple airlines. These have included Northwest, American, Continental and Midwest. On at least three occasions, I have successfully been able to fly without a single piece of identification out of DCA Airport. A number of other US citizens have also done this, and documented their experiences, including Mr Jim Harper, a member of the DHS Privacy Advisory Committee (see:,71115-0.html).

On February 19 2007 at DCA Airport, during the the secondary screening process, I explained to the TSA screeners exactly why I had a "No ID" boarding pass - marked that way by a Northwest check-in agent. I told them that there is no law that requires that passengers present any ID to a government employee in order to fly, and that the only reason I was undergoing secondary screening was due to the fact that I was not showing them any ID. They told me that unless I showed them ID, that they would be forced to call over a law enforcement officer. They also warned me that this could cause me to miss my flight. I said this would not be a problem.

As part of the secondary screening process, I went through a magnetometer and underwent a full pat down by a TSA agent. My carry on bag was thoroughly searched, my prescription medicines examined, and all of my possessions swabbed and then analyzed for chemical/explosive traces. I willingly complied with the secondary screening process. Had I not declined to show ID, I would have been able to go through the security checkpoint in a couple of minutes without any of these additional searches.

It is at this point that we met. You introduced yourself, asked me why I did not wish to show ID, and then told me that I was obligated to show ID, to you. I asked you to confirm that you were compelling me to show ID, and you confirmed this. I again stated my belief that there was no law that required passengers to show ID to government employees in order to fly, but that since you were ordering me to present an ID, I would do so. I asked a TSA staff member to remove my wallet from my bag, who gave it to you. I then asked you to hand me my wallet, which you did. I removed my Virginia drivers license, handed it over to you, and waited.

You then read my drivers license number into your radio, and had a colleague of yours perform some kind of criminal record check on me. After this came up negative, you handed my license over to the TSA employees, who wrote down my personal information for the incident report that they were preparing.

At this point, there were 2 TSA screeners, 2 TSA supervisors in suits, and yourself, an armed police officer. I believe that it was quite reasonable for me to feel intimidated by this large gathering of law enforcement and security officers around me, all of whom were telling me that I was required to show ID. While I was, and still am confident that the law is on my side, I did not feel comfortable enough to risk any kind of major confrontation, and thus complied with your order. I know that it is better to state my objection, obey police orders, and then contest them after the fact.

I ask that you provide me with the following information:

1. What is the specific law or rule which allowed you to compel me to provide ID.

2. If I had not agreed to show you ID, how would you have responded? Would you have stopped me from flying?

3. What if any probable cause or reasonable suspicion did you have to compel me to show you my ID.

4. My boarding pass stated my full name and I introduced myself by full name to you when we met. Please explain the additional requirement that I show ID to you. This would seem to fall far beyond the requirements outlined in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada.

5. Why did you give my drivers license to TSA staff - when the sole reason I submitted myself to the secondary screening process was so that I would not have to identify myself to TSA?

6. What is the specific law or rule which allowed you to give my drivers license, and thus access to my personal information, to the TSA employees - who would then use it to write a report. I had clearly expressed my intent to not show my identity documents to TSA.

I have full respect for the police, and I understand that you have a tough and stressful job. I ask, however, that you please respond to my questions in full.
I also ask that you confirm receipt of this letter, by US mail, within 10 working days.

Thank you,

Christopher Soghoian


Anonymous said...

Regardless of the situation, I think police can at least ask for ID--nothing to do with your being in the airport at the time.

Anonymous said...

The police shouldn't be able to ask for your ID at whim. I've lived in Russia for the majority of my life, and have seen how such method can be used to intimidate people.
Interesting thing I didn't notice in your description was that the Officer handed the ID to TSA.

Anonymous said...

You are doing hell of a great job.

Bouncer said...

Good on you. More of an American than many of the flag waving fools out there. I honestly wish I had the same freedom you do to fight these battles.

Best wishes to you and everyone else making the gov't (and it's agents) account for their actions.


Anonymous said...

did you get a response?

Anonymous said...

This is similar to when the police beat up a girl at Reagan National Airport in DC. They assaulted this girl and gave her a serious brain injury and made her entire body black and blue. Then they arrested HER and charged her with a made up crime to cover up the police brutality. The airport police are supposed to be there to protect us from terrorists, not beat up and harass young women, mothers and Congressmen. There is something illicit going on at Reagan National Airport. Fly through Washington DC at your own risk.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing in the law that says you have to show an ID to a police officer when asked unless you are operating a motor vehicle. The police have to have Reasonable Suspicion that a crime has been committed to ask for your ID. And they have to be able to articulate in detail their suspicion. A cop just can't walk up to you on the street or anywhere else and demand ID because he or she feels like it.