Before I describe what happened, let me first explain why it is important that the TSA accept any valid government ID presented (and actually, is legally required to allow you fly even if you have no ID at all!). First, the TSA is not Customs, and has no right to ask me to provide any information before allowing me on my way. A passport contains much more information than a drivers license does: it’s a history of everywhere I’ve been. This can be used in a discriminatory fashion (“Oh, you’ve been to the middle east, eh?”) and I have the right not to share it. Second, even Customs has no right to ask for my passport as I leave the country. By law, we impose no “exit controls” on our borders, and such controls have frequently been used as tools of oppressing the people. Finally, the TSA search that we are required to undergo is permitted only to seek potential weapons. The TSA has been repeatedly accused of abusing that limited search in order to unconstitutionally further other interests — most often to find drugs, but in this case, keeping track of how much money travelers are moving in and out of the country. There is no basis for the TSA not only conducting such investigations, but maintaining records as travelers arrive with more than a few thousand dollars in cash. Those records, of course, are archived in a database and distributed outside of the TSA.
So last week when I flew out of JFK on an international flight, I was surprised by the TSA ID checker asking to see my passport after I presented her with my valid Florida drivers license. I assured her that TSA policy requires her to accept any valid government-issued photo ID presented, and she can check with her supervisor if she was unsure. She skips away to find STSO Egbert Haynes.
When Egbert arrives, he informs me that the original “officer” has the right to ask for “another” form of ID — which would be true if they were doing it, for example, because they were unsure of the validity of the first ID, rather than for the purpose of forcing me to show a passport. Prepared with many forms of ID besides my passport, he then proceeds to reject two additional forms of government photo ID — a Florida concealed weapons license and my old (but not expired) New York drivers license, both of which I’ve flown with as my sole ID in the past on domestic flights (incidentally, I’ve also seen the TSA accept non-government and non-photo IDs, such as credit cards and student IDs, as secondary identification when, for example, a traveler presented an expired drivers license). Eventually, he admits that I’m being treated differently solely because I’m traveling internationally, but I’m still given the choice of showing my passport or not flying.
Once again, the TSA has invaded my privacy. While this particular invasion is perhaps less offensive than photographing me using a nude body scanner, like the nude body scanners, it serves no lawful purpose. Those body scanners are great for finding large amounts of cash, drugs, and large penises, however utterly fail at finding the only thing the TSA is lawfully permitted to look for: weapons.
Of course, I record every interaction I have with the TSA. Audio and text transcription below:
STSO: Uh, the officer… I’m a supervisor, my name is Egbert Haynes. The officer has the authority to ask you for another piece of ID.
Jon: I’ll give you another piece of ID.
STSO: She’s asking for a passport, sir.
Jon: Well, she doesn’t have the authority to ask me for a passport, she has the authority to ask for an additional ID.
Jon: TSA rules don’t allow you to ask for a specific form of ID.
STSO: Uh, are you sure about that, sir?
Jon: Yes, I’m sure.
STSO: How certain are you?
Jon: 100%. Is that the TSM? *points to guy in suit* [a TSM is a Transportation Security Manager, and is Egbert’s boss]
STSO: Well, I’m a… I’m a supervisor.
Jon: Yes, so if you want a second form of ID, I have it. The TSA doesn’t have the right to ask for a passport. *inaudible*
STSO: Uh, what are we looking for in your passport, sir?
STSO: Well, there is something in your passport, and the fact that you are flying international, the officer does have the right. If you were a domestic traveler, the additional piece of ID would be granted.
Jon: Ok. I’ll give you a concealed weapons license from the State of Florida.
STSO: Ok, well that’s actually not something that would be acceptable.
Jon: Ok, well do you accept drivers licenses?
STSO: Yes, we do, we do. And I don’t know, that [CCW] may also be issued by DMV and that would be…
Jon: It’s issued by the state.
STSO: We do accept some government IDs, but I’m unsure of the concealed weapons.
Jon: Well here’s a New York drivers license.
STSO: So we have 2 drivers licenses, now we have some issues. We can engage a document specialist. Why do you have two drivers licenses?
Jon: I used to live in New York, this is an old document, but it’s not yet expired.
STSO: So was this [NY DL] supposed to be turned in when you got this [FL DL]?
Jon: It’s not valid for driving anymore, but it’s still me.
STSO: Um, we only accept what type of IDs? Valid. [While not valid for *driving*, the person in the ID is still me even if I moved to another state.]
Jon: I will give you guys the passport, but I will be filling in a comment card. [By comment card, I probably mean lawsuit… :)]
STSO: Roger that.