Privacy: What It's Like To Fly With No ID Under The TSA's New Regulations

David becomes our first reader to fly under the TSA’s new ID policy. Formerly, if you refused or were unable to show ID you could still fly — but were required to undergo secondary screening by the TSA. Now they’ve altered their position slightly– fliers who willingly refuse to show ID are now barred from flying. The new rule went into effect over the weekend, and David says that in order to board the plane after forgetting his driver’s license he had to answer questions about his political party affiliation and previous addresses.

The new regulation doesn’t apply to those passengers who claim to have forgotten their ID– so essentially you are barred from claiming that you have a constitutional right to refuse to show ID to get on a plane. Here’s how the TSA explains it:

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.

It turns out that “and other measures” include questions about political party affiliation and other questionable invasions of privacy, according to David:

So you know how the new TSA regulations went into effect yesterday, where you can only fly without ID if you “cooperate” with the TSA? Well, it turns out you also have to take a test about your personal life. They call up a service to administer it, and the last question they asked was which political party am I registered under (I correctly answered “democrat” and they still let me on board).

Anyway the full story is that I had to go Florida for a funeral, and accidentally left my driver’s license in my apartment in Manhattan. I made it through LaGuardia on Thursday the 19th in about 3 minutes, but when I tried to fly back through Fort Lauderdale Airport yesterday, it took about 45.

When I first approached security, I told the initial guard screening all passengers for ID that I had none. Instead of immediately calling the supervisor over like at LaGuardia, he paused and asked if I was sure I didn’t have any ID on me, like a social security card or something. I said I only had a credit card, so he then radioed for the area supervisor. She arrived in just a few seconds. Her name was Brenda, and she very politely and apologetically informed me that things had changed, and that the TSA supervisor for the whole airport needed to handle this situation because of the new regulations.

Luckily I had arrived an hour early so had plenty of time. I chatted with Brenda while we waited for the main supervisor to arrive. I started to get a little nervous that I wouldn’t be allowed on board, and Brenda repeatedly assured me it wouldn’t be a problem — they just had a few additional steps to go through.

After about 15 minutes, the main supervisor, Laurie, arrived. Again, Laurie was exceedingly nice and professional, but seemed a little more concerned than Brenda. She asked if I was sure I didn’t have photo ID, like a credit card with my picture on it, or even a CostCo card. I wound up going through my wallet in front of her to show that I didn’t, and she pointed to various cards and receipts in it to ask if they were IDs. I wound up showing her everything to prove I was telling the truth. She repeatedly said they had no way of “verifying” that I was who I said I was, and that someone could have stolen my credit card and traveled under my name. I didn’t want to mention that they shouldn’t need to verify who I am, because I was afraid they could then say I wasn’t cooperating and deny travel on that ground. In fact, I even mentioned several times that I wanted to fully cooperate with them because I was aware that was a component of the new regulation, and they assured me that I was.

Finally satisfied that I didn’t have ID, Laurie took my boarding pass and went away. She came back a few minutes later having photocopied it, and also had an affidavit that she requested I sign. It asked for my name and address, and stated in small print at the bottom that I did not have to fill it out, but if I didn’t I couldn’t fly. It also said that if I choose to fill it out and then provided false info, I would be in violation of federal law.

After filling out the affidavit, Laurie called a service to verify my address. The service needed me to then correctly answer three questions about myself, which Laurie relayed to me. The first was my date of birth, the second was a previous address (which I only got right on my second try), and the third was “You are registered to vote. Which political party have you registered with?” I got all three right, and only then did Laurie clear me to go through security.

Of course, I still had to submit to secondary screening, including a full-body pat-down and total luggage search. Brenda and Laurie stayed with me to make sure the process went as quickly as possible, and were again incredibly helpful and nice. They kept explaining over and over how necessary it was to “verify” who I was, and how times have changed, and how these new regulations must have been as a result of someone trying to get away with something, because there’s always a reason for these thing but they don’t always know what those reasons are. They were so nice and considerate that I waited until the very end before I finally said that I do not agree with the new regulations, but that I was thankful that the two of them acted so professionally and considerately to me. Laurie actually seemed a little dejected when I said this, because I had been playing along the entire time out of fear that I would not appear cooperative otherwise.

But I made it onboard my flight, and am back in Manhattan. I have flown without ID in the past, a couple years ago, and it was no problem. I almost preferred it because I got to skip the line. This time around though, it was incredibly burdensome, and involved the full attention of two high-level local TSA employees for a considerable period of time. I kept wondering if Laurie and Brenda were so busy with me for so long, what if someone really bad was doing something in another terminal or area? So even though I cannot say enough good things about how these particular TSA employees handled it, I still feel the new regulation is entirely inappropriate and unnecessary. Why do you need to provide a home address to fly? And what if I refused to answer the question about my political party allegiances? Luckily I kept my cool and even befriended the screeners just so they couldn’t resort to the subjective lack-of-cooperation carve-out, but 45 minutes of standing at security not knowing if you’ll make your flight seems specifically designed to test people’s mettle and upset them. The TSA has turned flying without ID into an overly cumbersome and almost unmanageable chore.

We agree with CNet’s Chris Soghoian when he says that this new rule is just more security theater– at the cost of your privacy.

While TSA’s announcement stated that the goal of the change was to “increase safety,” this blogger disagrees. The change of rules seems to be a pretty obvious case of security theater. Real terrorists do not refuse to show ID. They claim to have lost their ID, or they use a fake.

TSA’s new rules only protect us from a non-existent breed of terrorists who are unable to lie.

Your papers please: TSA bans ID-less flight
(Photo: Kevin Dean )