Apr 15 2013

Can you fly without ID? Only if the TSA gives you permission.

While we’re picking on what the TSA posts in its official blog, let’s take a look at what the TSA said in another blog post earlier this week entitled, “Can you fly without ID?”

It’s an important question, but the TSA only hints at the answer.

One might expect that the answer to the question, “Can you fly without ID?”, would start with the ID rules. But no, there are no rules about this or anything else the TSA does.  The TSA has “Standard Operating Procedures”, but (a) they aren’t rules, and the TSA can’t be required to follow them, and (b) they are secret. Gotta keep the terrorists (and the innocent travelers) guessing, apparently.

According to the TSA’s latest blog post:

If we can’t confirm your identity with the information you provide or you’re not willing to provide us with the information to help us make a determination, you may not be able to fly.

What does this mean?

Obviously, the only reason you might “not be able to travel” would be that the TSA would prevent you from doing so, or direct someone else — most likely the airline or local law enforcement officers — to do so. So the TSA statement amounts to an assertion of authority to issue no-fly orders.

But the TSA doesn’t say that you won’t be able to travel, only that you “may” not be able to do so. So the TSA’s assertion is of discretionary no-fly authority.

There is no requirement in any TSA regulation or law for would-be travelers to identify themselves or provide any information to the TSA. Nor is there any definition of what it might mean for the TSA to “confirm your identity”, or what information might be required for that purpose. So the TSA’s assertion is of administrative no-fly authority not derived from any public source and not bounded by any publicly-disclosed standards.

To sum it up, even while saying that yes, you might sometimes be allowed to fly without ID, the TSA is claiming the authority, in its standardless administrative discretion, to prevent you from flying if you don’t provide whatever information it asks for, or if it claims to have been unsuccessful (for whatever reason) in accomplishing whatever it thinks constitutes “confirming” your identity.

So much for the “right” to fly without ID, and for TSA compliance with its explicit statutory duty to treat air travel as a public right.

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