February 28th, 2005

Declaration

Why do we have to show our ID to get on a plane?

Grounded: Millionaire John Gilmore stays close to home while making a point about privacy
He's unable to travel because he refuses to present a government-approved ID

Sunday, February 27, 2005
By Dennis Roddy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

SAN FRANCISCO -- John Gilmore's splendid isolation began July 4, 2002, when, with defiance aforethought, he strolled to the Southwest Airlines counter at Oakland Airport and presented his ticket.

The gate agent asked for his ID.

Gilmore asked her why.

It is the law, she said.

Gilmore asked to see the law.

Nobody could produce a copy. To date, nobody has. The regulation that mandates ID at airports is "Sensitive Security Information." The law, as it turns out, is unavailable for inspection.

What started out as a weekend trip to Washington became a crawl through the courts in search of an answer to Gilmore's question: Why?

In post 9/11 America, asking "Why?" when someone from an airline asks for identification can start some interesting arguments. Gilmore, who learned to argue on the debate team in his hometown of Bradford, McKean County, has started an argument that, should it reach its intended target, the U.S. Supreme Court, would turn the rules of national security on end, reach deep into the tug-of-war between private rights and public safety, and play havoc with the Department of Homeland Security.

At the heart of Gilmore's stubbornness is the worry about the thin line between safety and tyranny.

"Are they just basically saying we just can't travel without identity papers? If that's true, then I'd rather see us go through a real debate that says we want to introduce required identity papers in our society rather than trying to legislate it through the back door through regulations that say there's not any other way to get around," Gilmore said. "Basically what they want is a show of obedience."

As happens to the disobedient, Gilmore is grounded. He is rich -- he estimates his net worth at $30 million -- and cannot fly inside the United States. Nor can he ride Amtrak, rent a room at most major hotels, or easily clear security in the courthouses where his case, Gilmore v. Ashcroft, is to be heard. Collapse )

"That's the problem. How it sounds," Gilmore said. He waved his hands like some Cassandra: "They have all these secret laws! The UFOs are coming! They have guards at every airport!" Yes, he said, there is a certain odd flavor to the notion that someone shouldn't have to show ID to board a plane, but with magnetometers at the gates, guards with security wands, fortified cockpit doors and sky marshals abounding, Gilmore is asking just how much citizens are giving up when they hand their driver's licenses to a third party, in this case an airline, where it is put into a database they cannot see, to meet a law that, as it turns out, they are not allowed to read.

Gilmore will show ID for an international flight because he doesn't expect to set the rules for other nations.

"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."
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