Phil Mocek: You don’t have to show ID to fly
After plenty of trial postponements, Seattle software developer Phil Mocek had his day in court. He didn’t testify. Instead, a video Mocek made with his cell phone camera was shown to the jury. On Friday, Jan. 21, he was still found not guilty of four charges: disorderly conduct, concealing identity, refusing to obey an officer and criminal trespass.
In November 2009, he refused to show ID other than his boarding pass to Transportation Security Administration agents. They called police officer Robert Dilley, who wrote in the criminal complaint that Mocek raised his voice, refused to identify himself and wouldn’t stop photographing agents, passengers and the checkpoint.
I caught up with Mocek on Monday to talk about the trial results. Needless to say, he was pleased with the verdict. But why go through the trouble? Why get arrested? Why drive (not fly) back and forth between Seattle and Albuquerque for a number of trial dates that are then postponed?
This is what he wants you to know:
“It should be more obvious to the public now that TSA does not require us to show documentation of our identity in order to travel, and TSA staff are not law enforcement officers. TSA does not bar photography in airports, though there are arguably a few exceptions. “
TSA’s attempt to identify passengers has two objectives, he says. One is airline revenue protection. Years ago, classifieds sections of newspapers were filled with people selling airline tickets they couldn’t use. Anymore, if you can’t make your flight for some reason, the airline will resell your seat. “Presumably the airlines really like keeping people from using someone else's ticket,” he says.
The second objective, he says, is to allow the federal government to restrict people’s movements based on two blacklists—one if of people so dangerous they shouldn’t be allowed to fly, and the other is a list of people who can fly after additional searches. TSA confirms this in a 2008 blog, which says TSA doesn’t maintain its own watch list, but instead subscribes to a terrorist list from the Terrorist Screening Center.
From the blog:
“TSA uses two subsets of this list, the no-fly and selectee lists. These small subsets of the overall list are reserved for known or suspected terrorists that reach a threshold where they should not be allowed to fly, or should get additional scrutiny.”
Mocek says if the people on the blacklists are so dangerous, they should be hauled in front of a judge, not put on a secret security list.
But what about the argument that checking IDs before people board a flight is an important safety measure?
“It seems to be fairly simple for a 20-year-old college student to get a fake ID,” Mocek says. “A determined criminal would be able to get falsified identification documents. It's easy to get around these requirements. Checking ID only affects honest people.”
Mocek’s been flying without presenting identification since about 2006. He read about a lawsuit initiated by John Gilmore, who was barred from flying without identification in four years prior. So Mocek started not showing ID, too. “If we don’t flex our rights at times when we don’t feel like we need them, someday when we do really need them, they won’t be there anymore.”
Most of the time when he didn’t present a driver’s license, clerks would divert him to a second line, he says, but he would be allowed to board eventually. In 2008, TSA announced that anyone who willfully refused to show ID would not be allowed to fly.
From that announcement:
“This new procedure will not affect passengers that may have misplaced, lost or otherwise do not have ID but are cooperative with officers.”
Mocek says the policy suggests TSA is trying to enforce compliance, rather than actually being concerned with passengers’ identities.
Either way, he doesn’t fly anymore. After TSA started doing requiring invasive body searches or electronic strip searches, he’d had enough. “When I first started flying without ID, if I had said to people, ‘This is a trend. In a couple of years, TSA will be lifting crotches and breasts,’ people would have told me I was crazy. But that’s what’s happening today. We don’t know how far they’re going to go.“
He says he’s not sure what will happen next with his case, if anything.
Hear the trial for yourself. A nearly complete record of the audio can be found here.
TSA case goes to trial tomorrow in Albuquerque
Phil Mocek's trial in Bernalillo County Metro Court tomorrow might be the first of its kind in the country. He was arrested after refusing to present identification to the Transportation Security Administration. Mocek's case may be the first time someone has been arrested or charged with a crime after trying to travel by plane without showing ID. He'll will be driving—not flying—from his hometown of Seattle to the Duke City for the trial.
He was arrested at a Sunport security checkpoint about a year ago when Transportation Security Administration agents called on Albuquerque police. Officer Robert Dilley reported that Mocek raised his voice and created a disturbance, so Dilley told him to leave the airport. Mocek refused to identify himself and would not stop photographing TSA agents, passengers and the checkpoint, Dilley wrote in the criminal complaint.
Mocek was charged with disorderly conduct, concealing his identity, refusing to obey an officer and criminal trespass. He is being represented by Nancy Hollander [Talking Points, "A Terrorist Lawyer," April 22-28, 2010] and Molly Schmidt-Norwara. His lawyers refused to comment.
Edward Hasbrouck is a consultant to the Identity Project in California. The nonprofit looks at civil liberties and human rights issues related to air travel. The group is particularly interested in TSA checkpoints and borders, what requirements are placed on travelers to show ID, and surveillance. "We were obviously disturbed to find that Mr. Mocek had been arrested and had been essentially framed on these charges," Hasbrouck says in an interview with the Alibi.
He adds that the four charges leveled against Mocek are not the real reasons he was arrested. "The real reason he was arrested is that the TSA didn't like what he was doing," Hasbrouck says. "The real charge is questioning the illegitimate authority of the TSA. Now, why the local authorities are choosing to put themselves out on a limb, trumping up bogus charges just to keep the TSA is a question that you'd have to ask the prosecutor in Albuquerque."
Neither Dan Rislove, the attorney representing the state, nor TSA spokesperson Luis Casanova have yet returned the Alibi's calls. But we'll keep you updated as the case unfolds.