In response to a request by the Identity Project under the Freedom of Information Act, the TSA has for the first time given us a (redacted) version of the section on Travel Document and ID Checks from the TSA’s “Screening Management SOP” (Standard Operating Procedures) manual. Our request was made June 21, 2008, the day the TSA announced what they claimed were changes to ID “requirements” for air travelers. It took the TSA almost seven months to respond.
The version of the SOP manual which the TSA has now made public is dated June 30, 2008, so it ought to reflect the changes announced in the TSA’s June 21, 2008 press release. But there is nothing at all in the sections of the manual the TSA has released about the new procedures and new ID verification form which the TSA had, in fact, started using. Rather than requiring people who don’t have or don’t choose to show government-issued ID credentials to execute affidavits stating who they are under penalty of perjury, the TSA procedures manual requires that such people be allowed to proceed through secondary screening as “selectees”, and specifically directs screeners and other TSA staff not to make any attempt to detain or delay them.
The TSA procedures manual states that the “Travel Document Checker” (TDC) must “ask to see” each person’s travel document. (”Travel document” appears to be used to mean “ticket” or “confirmation”, contrary to the international industry-standard usage of “travel document” to mean “passport or other ID”.)
The key words used are “ask” and “request”, not “demand”. The procedures further state:
If the individual’s identification documents remain suspect, the STSO [Screening Officer] must notify an LEO [law enforcement officer] for resolution….
Screening of the individual may proceed while waiting for an LEO response. If an LEO fails to respond within established airport timeframes, the STSO must process the individual as a selectee. If the individual clears selectee screening, do not attempt to detain or delay the individual from entering the sterile area for the purpose of obtaining LEO clearance….
Individuals who appear to be 18 years of age or older with a valid travel document, but without an ID, or in possession of an invalid ID, must be designated and screened as a selectee.
Any detention, search, or interrogation by a law enforcement officer, of course, would be subject to well-established legal standards for warrant, probable cause, or sufficent basis for suspicion.
The other key word in the phrase “ask to see” in the procedures is “see”, which would require only that you allow visual inspection of your documents. There’s nothing in the procedures requiring or authorizing the TDC to demand that you surrender possession or physical control of your documents, although in fact they often demand that you give them your documents and let go of them yourself.
Contrary to TSA claims to have firm legal authority for their ID checking and other screening practices, this section of the TSA SOP manual suggests that the TSA knows that their authority is limited, and in particular does not extend to detention, general-puprose search, confiscation of documents, or compelled responses to interrogatories.
These are “procedures”, mind you. Not policies. Not regulations. Not laws. Congress has never debated or approved any of this, nor has any judge or jury. The excerpts from the TSA manual that we received gave little hint of how much “discretion” the TSA thinks it has, or gives its minions at individual airports or checkpoints, to use “nonstandard” procedures if they feel like it.
If you’re going to be trying to fly without showing ID credentials, or without ones that the TSA finds acceptable, you might want to carry a copy of this section of the procedures manual, to remind the TSA that they aren’t supposed to detain or delay you. If you do, please let us know how it goes.