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The Courts Government Privacy News

John Gilmore's Search for the Mandatory ID Law 1568

powerline22 writes "John Gilmore, the millionare who cofounded the EFF, has been prohibited from travelling because he refused to show an ID while boarding an airplane. He's been under this self-imposed ban since 2002. From the article: "The gate agent asked for his ID. Gilmore asked her why. It is the law, she said. Gilmore asked to see the law. Nobody could produce a copy. To date, nobody has. The regulation that mandates ID at airports is 'Sensitive Security Information.' The law, as it turns out, is unavailable for inspection. What started out as a weekend trip to Washington became a crawl through the courts in search of an answer to Gilmore's question: Why?"
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John Gilmore's Search for the Mandatory ID Law

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  • by Threni ( 635302 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:23PM (#11798412)
    "You've got to have rules, Jerry. Without rules there's chaos." - Kramer.
    • by jd ( 1658 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Monday February 28, 2005 @01:06AM (#11800139) Homepage Journal
      At least, when it comes to the markets. That's his forte. If you want to make money, he's probably the one to listen to.

      In this case, we're not talking markets, but the guy still has a point. Without some sort of structure, some rules, you do end up with chaos.

      HOWEVER, and this is a point that too many people miss, rules for the sake of rules add nothing to that structure. A decorative wall-hanging is all fine and well, but it adds nothing to the strength or durability of the wall it is hanging on.

      Thus, we can say that decorative rules serve no function other than to exist. Removing them does not create chaos, though if they add some aesthetic element to life, removing them may reduce the enjoyment of life. To date, I've never heard of a decorative rule that did add to the aesthetics, but I'm willing to concede that it is possible such rules exist.

      Finally, neither necessary nor aesthetic rules require invisibility. A wall is no less a wall if people can see it is there. But if it can be seen, you can tell whether something is functional or not. It certainly can't be aesthetic if it can't be seen.

  • by xmas2003 ( 739875 ) * on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:24PM (#11798415) Homepage
    John's Home Page. []

    This writeup on Gilmore v. Ashcroft [] is kinda interesting too as is FreeToTravel.Org [] that includes an FAQ from John [] - all of this has been around for a while, but I guess the mainstream media just "re-discovered" John's story - don't think there has been any significant change in over a year (?)

    • by daveschroeder ( 516195 ) * on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:47PM (#11798639)
      This very page [] says that he would have been allowed to travel at SFO without ID if he submitted to a search. That alone devastates the "secret ID law" claim, as allowing him to fly without ID, search or not, would have been in violation of that law. More here [].
      • by zackrentwood ( 828124 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:52PM (#11798687)
        I don't think that this is dispositive. From the government's pleadings there clearly is a secret law. Many briefs went back and forth arguing that the government should/should not have to reveal the text of the administrative order.

        It seems that the text of the secret rule might allow the TSA to forego the ID requirement in exchange for more strict physical searches.
      • by Repton ( 60818 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @10:07PM (#11798819) Homepage
        From TFA:

        They reached a strange agreement for an argument about personal privacy: In lieu of showing ID, Gilmore would consent to an extra-close search, putting up with a pat-down in order to keep his personal identity to himself. He was wanded, patted down and sent along.

        As Gilmore headed up the boarding ramp a security guard yanked him from line. According to court papers, a security agent named Reggie Wauls informed Gilmore he would not be flying that day.

        "He said, 'I didn't let you fly because you said you had an ID and wouldn't show it,' " Gilmore said. "I asked, 'Does that mean if I'd left it at home I'd be on the plane?' He said, 'I didn't say that.' "

        This says that he _did_ consent to being searched ... and was then later pulled out, after passing through security.

      • by VidEdit ( 703021 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @10:16PM (#11798886)
        You need to RTFA at :

        As Gilmore headed up the boarding ramp a security guard yanked him from line. According to court papers, a security agent named Reggie Wauls informed Gilmore he would not be flying that day. "He said, 'I didn't let you fly because you said you had an ID and wouldn't show it,'" Gilmore said. "I asked, 'Does that mean if I'd left it at home I'd be on the plane?' He said, 'I didn't say that.'"

        So, actually he wasn't allowed on the plane. There is a "Secret ID" law--so secret the government at first wouldn't even awknolge if it did or did not exist. Even today, the government won't cite the secret rule that allegedly requires people to show ID, saying that it is secret and can't be revealed without harming security.

        It's official. We now live in a police state, with secret searches, secret evidence, secret arrests, secret detentions without charges, secret touture, secret laws and even secret legal arguments. It sounds too bad to be true, but each allegation I've listed is documented and verifiable.

      • by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @11:06PM (#11799261) Homepage
        How can we be bound by a law we can't read? Courts have ruled again and again that ignorance of the law is no excuse... How can we accept that we're bound by laws, which we must know, which we can't know?

        This country has turned into a Kurt Vonnegut novel.

  • by fembots ( 753724 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:26PM (#11798431) Homepage
    Maybe the memory is still lingering?

    But seriously, is $30 million enough for such lawsuit? Didn't we just read that a session of 'Trek costs $32 million??
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:27PM (#11798449)
    I always thought the old Soviet Union required authorisation for its citizens to travel between towns and provinces/states. Of course this is not the case on a free country ;)?

    Oh, I see... Security means less privacy, according to some, uh?
    • by DeepHurtn! ( 773713 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:52PM (#11798690)
      This case brings up other and more frightening comparisons to the old USSR and other totalitarian governments. The USSR, for example, had a constitution that supposedly guaranteed many of the same rights the US constitution grants; in practice, however, these rights were non-existent due to various secret "exceptions". If your government is enforcing laws that the public doesn't have access to, democracy is impossible. It is essential that the people have the right to inspect and critique the laws they are subject to.
  • No progress lately? (Score:5, Informative)

    by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <> on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:29PM (#11798467) Homepage Journal
    Unfortunately the legal page [] hasn't been updated since November 2004. So what's happenin' John? Has things stalled? Has there been any more progress? If so, can you update the legal page? We are listening, and we do care. Our attention spans are longer than the average person. Why the silence?
  • Dude! wtf? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:32PM (#11798504)
    If I was driving down the freeway one day, following all the rules, going the speed limit, and a police officer pulls me over for "a traffic violation", but is not willing to tell me what this "traffic violation is", wouldn't I have reason to question why?
    • Re:Dude! wtf? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by zoloto ( 586738 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @10:40PM (#11799048)
      I cop did that to me while I was in New York a while back visiting family. And he wouldn't tell me. I was doing the speed limit, signaling when I changed lanes etc. etc.

      One thing to note, my car at the time was equiped with a video recorder next to the odometer. Sound and all. When the cop refused to identify why I was being pulled over and asked for I.D. and proof of insurnace (after 5 minutes).. I simply pulled away and called my lawyer, who promptly met me at the next exit.

      Video and all, I was exonerated from any charge and the police department was spared a harassment charge and any "financial damage" by me - however it made the news for a few days in my local area. And a formal apology to boot. I tell you, sticking it to "the man" is one thing... but making sure abuse doesn't happen and not tolerating any bullying sure left a warm spot in my heart. Not to mention "fan" mail I actually did recieve.

      Cops don't pull me over in NY anymore unless I do something wrong.

  • New slant ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mostly a lurker ( 634878 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:36PM (#11798541)
    ... on the rule that "ignorance of the law is no excuse". It would be amusing if it were not so tragic. Here are people enforcing laws against others with neither party aware of the full wording of the law.

    Here is a law, furthermore, that was not passed in accordance with the constitution. We have faceless individuals deciding on controls on everyday movement and almost no questioning of their right to do so.

    I am actually surprised Mr Gilmore has not asked for a court injunction asking either for proof that such a law exists (and its text) or for the regulation to be lifted.

  • by Snarfangel ( 203258 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:37PM (#11798549) Homepage
    Next thing you know, you'll want to be innocent until proven guilty and question witnesses.
  • ObCatch-22 quote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Piquan ( 49943 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:38PM (#11798559)

    "What right did they have?" said Capt.Yossarian

    "Catch-22." said the old woman

    "What?" Yossarian froze in his tracks with fear and alarm and felt his whole body begin to tingle. "What did you say?"

    "Catch-22," the old woman repeated, rocking her head up and down. "Catch-22. Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing."

    "What the hell are you talking about?" Capt. Yossarian shouted at her in bewildered, furious protest.

    "Didn't they show it to you?" Yossarian demanded, stamping about in anger and distress. "Didn't you even make them read it?"

    They don't have to show us Catch-22," the old woman answered. "The law says they don't have to."

    "What law says they don't have to?"

    "Catch-22." The old woman said.

    Joseph Heller, Catch-22 []
  • Laws (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord_Dweomer ( 648696 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:39PM (#11798562) Homepage
    I don't know about you guys, but I've always felt that if you are going to be restricted by rules and laws, those rules and laws need to be available for your viewing.

    I mean, the reason people go to law school and the reason pay lawyers so much money is because the law is something that needs to be done BY THE LETTER. It sounds like the airlines want us just to abide by the spirit of the law.

    And while I personally wish society were at point where we COULD just go by the spirit of things, we are not there yet, and so in order to protect OUR rights, and OUR safety, we need to be able to view these laws and make certain we're not getting screwed over.

  • It reminds me. . . (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bastian ( 66383 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:42PM (#11798595)
    It reminds me of when my town's high school started making kids wear their sudent ID's around their necks in response to Columbine, with the stated purpose of trying to prevent such a situation in our town by discouraging unauthorized people from entering the school.

    Only problem is, there has not been a school shooting I know if that was not perpetrated by a student who is authorized to be at that school.

    Same thing with airplanes. "Ha ha, you dumb terrorists! Now you have to prove you bought the ticket to get on the airplane!" I'm sure this inconveniences them much more than it inconveniences me when getting on an airplane. In fact, I bet it inconveniences them so much that they would scrub years or decades of planning. Sure, I get on an airplane once every couple months, and it hasn't made life too much harder for me, but somehow it's magically different for terrorists.

  • "Lose" your ID (Score:4, Insightful)

    by chill ( 34294 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:43PM (#11798603) Journal
    Ticket Agent: May I see your ID?

    Me: I'm sorry, I lost my wallet somewhere. All I have is some cash until I get everything replaced. You have no idea just how difficult this has been.

    Ticket agent: Okay, you'll have to go thru some extra screening, though. [Meaning a guaranteed wanding, remove shoes, etc.]

    Me: Okay.

    Been there, done that. It works.

    Of course, I actually DID lose my wallet on that trip, but the principle is the same.

  • by Eil ( 82413 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @09:50PM (#11798669) Homepage Journal

    From TFA:

    "He was employee No. 5 at Sun Microsystems, which made Unix, the free software of the Web, the world standard."

    Waitaminute. They're actually saying that:
    • Sun made Unix (AT&T made Unix)
    • Unix is the "free software of the web," (I'd say Apache, Linux, or FreeBSD would make better examples, Unix(tm) is kproprietary)
    • Unix is "the world standard" (eh? Windows seems like it would be more of a world standard, even if we don't like it.)

    Three complete falsehoods in one sentence! Is this country great or what?
  • by vijayiyer ( 728590 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @10:08PM (#11798827)
    Like most such regulations, it's there to keep the soccer moms happy through the feeling of security. Realistically, it's meaningless. A criminal will either be sure to not have a prior record or use a fake.
  • by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @10:12PM (#11798862)
    (I am not a lwayer, and this is not legal advice for any person who thinks they face what may or may not be a similar situation)

    One of the basic issues driving the airport case is the question of when ignorance of the law IS an excuse. The typical educated layman's answer is never - "Ignorance of the law is no excuse.". While that's generally good advice, real case law is slightly different. It sometimes involves a concept called scientier. The U.S. Supreme Court has defined "scientier" in one set of cases as: "a mental state embracing intent to deceive, manipulate, or defraud.". In various legal situations, it's definition is broader, but is generally about the intent of the accused.
    Several scientier related cases have established that ignorance of a law can become an excuse - IF the ignorance is not the sole fault of the accused. One example of this would be a case where the state itself has put impediments in the way of learning what the law is, and another would be a case where there were substantial natural impediments.
    There have been successful challenges at the highest levels (The Supremes basically), in cases where the impediment was natural: One classic case in the area is that of a bookstore (general , rather than "adult") owner, who was found not guilty of violating obscenity law on this principle. He displayed for sale copies of a Grove Press work that had made the state's banned list. However, the copies he recieved from his normal distributer had rather innocuous cover art and a title that was not particularly indicative of the type of work. The court ruled that his defense was sound - the law did not compel a normal person to go to the rediculous length of personally reading every book in a shipment of tens of thousands of copies, or paying thousands of dollars each year for the necessary (at that time) postage and labor to constantly check a lengthy inventory against a state list not made widely available, just to comply.
    There are fewer good precidents for cases where the action of the state is involved, and fewer still that have made it to superior courts or the U.S. Supreme court. This looks to be a possible one.
    Right now, there is a claim in Texas that holds some of the state laws on sexual conduct are invalid. It's based on the fact that an agency of the state government struck out specific references to those laws in the state's high school text books. The theory is that once one arm of the state acts to make it harder for a person to become educated about the law, the whole state government loses the normal claim that ignorance is no excuse.
    This case hinges on the same claim. If it's really that hard to get to see an actual copy of the law involved, how can an individual who intends to comply with the law actually do it? A decision here will impact not just cases like the one in Texas, but may impact a lot of IRS/Tax law, as one of the claims frequently advanced there is that the law is literally too complicated to be understood.
  • by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @10:23PM (#11798932) Homepage Journal
    It's about laws you're not entitled to know about but you are bound with.

    This one is mostly harmless. But it's just a step away...

    Imagine such a law: Any visitor to an anti-government website is considered traitor of the country, subject to arrest and lawsuit, without right to a lawyer, with methods of interrogation like tortures allowed, bound with secret about everything they see or hear, including this law.

    Now this law comes into effect, except it's not being published anywhere. Just the same as the "ID check" - you don't get a chance to know it exists possibly until after you've violated it. The agents are free to drag you out of your house and keep you imprisoned for months, then eventually kill you and nobody can do anything about it, they can't even know what happened to you. And it's all fine in the eyes of law - and nobody can protest because nobody knows, and those who know, by knowing are bound by secret, or they violate the law and are subject of prosecution.

    That's the method of rule of totalitarian government. Laws you don't know about until it's too late. And of course laws made up on the spot, just as binding because nobody can verify they were made up on the spot...
  • by wk633 ( 442820 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @10:40PM (#11799047)
    is so that you can't fly on someone else's ticket.

    If you have a ticket you can't use, you can't sell it in the paper (or on eBay). There used to be all kinds of classified ads for airplane tickets for sale. No more. It's economics, not security.
    • by Minupla ( 62455 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .alpunim.> on Sunday February 27, 2005 @11:26PM (#11799418) Homepage Journal
      Then why would the requirement be enforeced by a secret law? Much easier to enforce as an airline reg: "All tickets are non-transferable. Prior to boarding the aircraft you will be required to present an acceptable proof of identification. The following are acceptable".... No biggie. On the other hand, if you have a secret govt law requiring that you show ID to get on the airplane, you get lots of bad press, and someone suing for constituational reasons. Sounds to me like the airlines did this the hard way if they were just trying to keep people from trading tickets.
  • by Duke ( 23059 ) on Sunday February 27, 2005 @11:02PM (#11799225)
    I noticed that, at the security line, it was always "suggested" that I take off my shoes and put them through the X-ray scanner. I asked if I was "required" to take off my shoes, and was told I was not. But any time I walked through with my shoes on, I was pulled aside for hand scanning and was required to take off my shoes. On one trip, I asked an intelligent-looking security agent if I was required to take my shoes off and he told me "No." I then asked him if I would be automatically pulled aside for hand scanning if I wore my shoes and he gave me an "I could be fired for making this smile so unambiguous" smile. So, I guess the rules ablut shoes are secret, too, although it would take any normal person about 15 minutes of watching to figure it out. I have been really pissed every time since going through security, knowing my government refuses to be straight with me. What if we all wore our shoes through the line?
  • by laing ( 303349 ) on Monday February 28, 2005 @12:35AM (#11799922)
    I traveled from San Jose airport (SJC) last week and was surprised that I was not required to produce ID. The gate agent even specifically said that they no longer require ID at SJC.
  • They slipped it in by the back door. They mandated that all state drivers license data bases be linked together (essentially a distributed database). If they all contain the same basic information (and possibly optional data), and are readable by the same hardware, then we have a national network of cards that are functionaly identical -- the only real difference being the artwork on your national ID card.

    George Bush is dead! Long live George Bush!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 28, 2005 @11:53AM (#11802820)

    I logged out to post this, because I am an Anonymous Coward.

    The Federal Aviation Administration does have a policy against traveling without ID. But it is not a secret law. It is not even a federal law. It is just a policy based on a memo by someone at the FAA. The 3 branches of government do not feel the need to correct the FAA, because so few people complain. CFRs are trumped-up administrative rules. Only USCs are laws, and there are no USCs requiring passengers to have photo IDs for domestic flights.

    I know a little about governments and IDs.

    The FAA policy reminds me of Florida Fish And Wildlife posting (everywhere) that it is illegal to carry a concealed gun in state parks. But the state attorney states that Fish And Wildlife has no statutory authority over guns and anyone with a conceal carry permit may carry in state parks.

    I've had a similar problem with Walmart sporting goods managers telling me that it is against county law to sell ammo after 9 PM. It is not. It is just their store policy, but they want to use the excuse that it is a law.

    The problem is not with the Federal government. The problem is with the general public. We need to have more people like John Gilmore. At a basic level, we're imposing this dictatorship on ourselves.

    Perhaps we should start a petition to have the movie 1984 played on a TV network. Might wake up the sleeping public. Another step would be to have the Constitution and, at least, the first 10 Amendments printed on the back of our paper currency, not mystic, cryptic Masonic symbols.

    But the US is hardly becoming a dictatorship. I consider this graphic as evidence of the health of our freedoms.
    Got to love a government that trusts you to take a gun into a bank. states []

    The reason that I voted for Bush/Republicans in 2004 is because Bush agrees the Second Amendment protects our individual right to own and carry guns. [] []

    I fail to see how an administration that supports the right to own weapons that can overthrow a government is the bogeyman of tyranny. For those that don't think that civilians with their "puny" guns could take down a hypothetical American dictatorship, consider that there are more than 240 million guns owned by 85 million civilians in the US.

    The 2nd Amendment is the most liberal and radical law in history. []

    To really understand the tone of the 1st and 2nd, one should read the preamble to the 10 amendments. (Usually not taught in government schools, so most have never heard of it) "The conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution."

    The first phrase of the 2nd is a declarative. It was the style of writing legal documents in the late 1700's to include a preamble. The preamble states a purpose, not a limitation on the language in these government charters. The phrase "well regulated" means well-trained and well-equipped, in proper working order. Ex: "a well regulated clock." "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

    Interestingly, the Militia Act of 1792 was law until 1903 (updated by 10 USC). The Militia Act of 1792 stated "That each and every free able-bodied white ma

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus