The new “reality” television show Homeland Security USA has prompted a Facebook group calling for it to be taken off the air, and protests against its bigotry outside the ABC-TV / Walt Disney Corp. offices in Burbank, even while ratings and viewership have been falling steadily since the first episode.
This week, though, the show gave us a useful lesson: how to fly (within the U.S.) without showing ID.
You can watch Benjamin fly without showing ID in the first half of Episode 5 here on the ABC.com website. (The player won’t work unless it thinks you are running Windows XP or Vista, but it’s possible — sometimes — to get it to work in Linux by using the Windows version of Firefox in the “wine” environment.)
Since the TSA staff probably won’t let you bring along a film crew to keep them on their best behavior, you are likely to get even more verbal ridicule, and an even more thorough “secondary screening”, than Benjamin gets in the TV show when he exercises his right to travel without showing ID. In particular, you are likely to be questioned by a TSA SPOT team. We aren’t aware of any legal challenges yet to the SPOT program, or any court decision on whether you are required to answer TSA questions or merely to submit to a search. But we suspect that your lawyer would advise you not to answer questions from police without a chance to consult your lawyer first.
As part of the “secondary screening”, the TSA agents are shown searching Benjamin’s wallet for his ID, thus making clear that (1) the search of his belongings is not limited to a search for weapons or hazardous materials, and (2) the demand for “ID” is a search for physical evidence (credentials), not just a request for information (e.g. verbal self-identification).
But the important message is that Benjamin is able to fly, as long as he is willing to “submit” to secondary screening of his person and carry-on belongings, just as you should be. Travel on a common carrier is, by law, a right, not a privilege, as long as you pay the fare and comply with the law and the terms of the airline’s tariff. No publicly-disclosed law or regulation requires you to show ID to fly on a domestic U.S. flight (nor would the Constitution permit such a law).
The TV producers try to undercut the message of Benjamin’s ability to travel without showing ID by adding a voiceover directed at anyone who might be “tempted to try this at home”, claiming that the TSA has changed its procedures so that people who won’t show ID might not be “permitted” to fly. The TSA did make an announcement last summer that it would require travelers who don’t show ID to complete an “ID verification” form and be “cooperative”. But the TSA has promulgated no rules requireing ID, has no authority to legislate by press release, and hasn’t complied with even the procedural rules (much less the Constitutional standards) applicable to its requests or demands for boarding passes, ID credentials, or completion of the ID verification form.
So please, do try this on your next trip, and let us know in the comments (or by contacting us privately) how it goes.