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Phil Mocek: You don’t have to show ID to fly

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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 blacklistsone 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.

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