The TSA Trap

After our recent discovery, while checking in for a flight, that the name “David Smith” is on the No-Fly List, I’ve been thinking a lot about the illusory nature of airline security. But not as much as tech legend John Gilmore. His hometown paper has a great profile of the SUN co-founder and EFF funder that also chronicles his efforts to read the law that requires US citizens to show government-issued ID to board a plane. The article is great:

The government has been so unyielding on disclosure that men with the name David Nelson suddenly found themselves ejected from flights. Somewhere in the system, the name came up on the newly created “No Fly” list. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., found himself in the same dilemma. When baggage screeners were caught pilfering, prosecutions were dropped because a trial would require a discussion of “Sensitive Security Information.”

When John Gilmore demanded proof that the airport ID rule met Constitutional muster, the government at first declined to acknowledge it even existed.

Gilmore’s famed eccentricity is put to awfully good service in this cause. He is asking questions that most of us can’t afford to (he’s worth millions) out of the sheer necessity of travel. We may not even have time to notice we’re submitting to ever-more-arbitrary “security” requirements. But he’s smart enough to notice and ornery enough to stick with what most would consider a Quixotic effort.

“I will show a passport to travel internationally. I’m not willing to show a passport to travel in my own country,” Gilmore said. “I used to laugh at countries that had internal passports. And it’s happened here and people don’t even seem to know about it.”


3 thoughts on “The TSA Trap”

  1. I started using my passport as my travel id a long time ago. When I used to travel for business (a million years ago), I started carrying all my documents (itinerary, ticket and passport) in a single packet and I never got out of the habit. I don’t want to dig my drivers license out of my wallet which is at the bottom of my purse which, if I’m traveling, is at the bottom of my laptop backpack. So, it started for me as a convenience.

    One of the reasons that I think a passport is an excellent idea for travel is that the id’s issued by states are not uniform and some are more prone to forgery than others. Also, the screening process at your local DMV is not always going to be as effective as we would like it to be.

    And maybe, just maybe if more US citizens had passports they would actually bother to travel abroad and open their minds to other cultures instead of sitting in their Laz-E-Boy drinking their Bud-Wei-Ser insisting that this is the greatest country in the world without ever having been outside of their state.

    Look, I’m all for personal freedoms and privacy. However, I am also a fiend for efficiency. If everyone had to present either a US or foreign passport (with or without green card), it simply makes it a lot simpler for those overworked and undertrained TSA employees and maybe they won’t make me take off my shoes anymore!

  2. I hate to fly. I have always hated flying. But more and more, I’m afraid to fly and up until 9/11, that was not the case. I’ve been totally worked over by the fear and propogranda machine – yep, parts of that thing work on reasonable critical minded lefties like me, beware. I think part of the reason I’m more afraid then ever is that I am now acutely aware that airport security is a farce.

    I could be WAY off base here, but I think odds are pretty low that your workaday plane boarding terrorist is going to engage the check in desk clerk in a discussion about civil rights. They’re going to hand over their forged – or perfectly legit – documents and get on the plane.

    Meanwhile, the TSA is harassing Ted Kennedy and Ann Richards and David Smith and readers of the Anarchist’s Cookbook and a guy wearing a t-shirt that says ‘terrorist.’ They’re taking knitting needles out of my checked luggage and sending my husband for ‘special screening.’ They’re making the grandfather in front of me unload all his orthopedics and take of his back brace. The TSA is making us all crazy.

    At the risk of slipping in to paranoia, I wonder sometimes if the TSA was created with no goals at all around making us truly safer. It was designed to create the illusion of safety while all the time, making us feel more afraid. Fear keeps the people subjugated, don’t you know?

  3. Pam,

    You hit it on the head – the TSA and Homeland Security are just a great big hoax being played upon the public in an effort to keep the economy working and legitimize incredibly large portions of pork barrel politics (port security initiatives in Oklahoma?). You can’t see the laws because the government isn’t through making them up yet. I think the Italians have the right idea with airport security – 18 year olds patrolling with uzis.

    Me, I’m one of those people that says, “If I am in the wrong place at the wrong time, at least I had a hell of a time getting here!” There is no such thing as safety. You can’t guarantee that you won’t be in the vicinity of the next terrible tragedy – natural or man-made. Tell them to stuff the fear and just make it efficient (kind of like the conveyor belts in an abattoir or is that my new apartment building?).

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