Do we really have to show a 'government-issued ID'?

June 5, 2000


About Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian
by Vin Suprynowicz

  number of folks have written in, seeking more details on the FAA security directive I've mentioned, which instructs airline employees to ask to see a government-issued ID from each passenger boarding a commercial aircraft -- but which specifically instructs airline employees they may not refuse to let you board a plane for lack of such ID, since America still has no "mandatory internal passport."

It was the fine folks at Sovereign Citizens Against Numbering, operating the "Fight the Fingerprint" web page at, who sent me the article "Flying Without Identification," reprinted from the May 1997 edition of Robert Kelly's "The American's Bulletin" ($50 per year; P.O. Box 3096, Central Point, OR 97502).

Writing under the pseudonym Betsy Ross, the author, a physician from the Pacific Northwest who promises to update me on "some follow-up regulations they've issued since," reported at the time that Northwest Airlines "was actually instrumental in advancing my education about this issue. I was so aggravated by the insolent and hostile treatment that their employee gave me (hopefully former employee, after the blistering letter I sent to the company president) that I demanded to see a supervisor on the spot.

"I then demanded that he produce the relevant federal regulations RIGHT NOW, or face personal liability for authorizing an unreasonable search and seizure, dereliction of duty, fraud, conspiracy, civil rights deprivation and any other legal buzz words I could think of that moment which would justify a lawsuit against him personally, as well as his employer.

"Like everyone else, he couldn't show me any statute or regulations. He even admitted that there are none. However, he did produce a copy of Security Directive 96-05, which the Federal Aviation Agency issued to all airlines in August of 1996.

"Its wording is very instructive; it reads as follows:


"A. all passengers who appear to be 18 years of age will present a government issued picture ID, or two other forms of ID, at least one of which must be issued by a government authority.

"B. The agent must reconcile the name on the ID and the name on the ticket -- except as noted below.

"C. If the passenger cannot produce identification, or if it cannot be reconciled to match the ticket, the passenger becomes a 'selectee.' Clear all of their luggage as noted in Section 6 below. Clear selectee's checked and carry-on luggage, and suspicious articles discovered by the questions asked."

The directive then explains procedures by which luggage may be "cleared" -- most of which in practice seem to involve placing matching orange stickers on boarding pass and baggage -- including: "1. Empty the luggage or item and physically search its contents by a qualified screener, or; 2. Bag-match -- ensure the bag is not transported on the aircraft if the passenger does not board."

Ms. Ross writes: "This document apparently goes on for 10 or more pages; the Northwest supervisor gave me only the first page, which contains the information printed above. The next time I refused to produce ID and an agent freaked, I told her, 'Just tap up Sec-Dec 96-5 on your computer, and go to Paragraph 1, Section C. Designate me as a "selectee," and proceed accordingly.' "

"She apparently thought I was an FAA undercover employee, because she said that she was 'tired of you federal guys coming around' and literally spying on airline agents, 'coercing us into lying to people, and essentially being the "bag man" for an activity which has no legal requirement.' I told her I could not agree more.

"Another airline employee later confirmed that FAA agents often engage in such entrapment activities, to make sure that airline agents parrot the government party line about state-issued ID.

"I also hit paydirt in a discussion with another, much nicer Northwest agent on the east coast. In a candid conversation, he told me that FAA personnel had held training sessions with all airline agents in the fall of 1996. Agents were informed directly by the FAA that they absolutely could not bar an American citizen from boarding a plane, even if a passenger refused to produce any identification at all! ... Anyone want to own an airline, courtesy of a judge? ...

"Yet another agent in the midwest admitted that airline personnel were deliberately and knowingly coercing people into showing government ID by saying 'It's the law.' According to him the reality is that the companies are simply tired of people selling their frequent-flier tickets.

"The airlines wanted to stem this practice by checking everyone's ID, but knew there would be big problems if they instituted this procedure as a private corporate policy. It was so much more convenient to say it was federal law and make the government the scapegoat.

"So this policy meets the airlines' private financial goals, and the government's goal of ever-increasing social control. If no one complains or asserts their rights regarding travel, then another freedom is 'poof' gone. Our children watch this happen, and grow up thinking the state has both the right to define our identity by issuing documents saying who we are, and also the right to require us to produce them on demand."

And so, as Buckaroo Banzai used to say: Wherever you go, there you are.

Papers, please?



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Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His new book, Send in the Waco Killers," was released by Mountain Media March 1, 1999. Subtitled "Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," the 500-page trade paperback is available at $21.95 per copy plus $3 shipping ($6 for expedited delivery within a week; $2 shipping per each additional copy) through Mountain Media, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127-4422. Orders are also being taken via web site, or toll free at 1-800-244-2224. Credit cards accepted; volume discounts available.