Starting this year, Americans will have to get government approval to travel by air. As Privacy Journal revealed last fall, henceforth “Permission Now Needed to Travel Within U.S.” Getting a reservation and checking-in for air travel will soon require Transportation Security Administration authorization. That permission is by no means assured: For example, if your name matches a “no-fly” list, even mistakenly, you can be denied the right to a reserve a seat on a flight. If your name is on a “selectee” list, you and your possessions will be searched more thoroughly before you can board. What is going on here?
Protecting air safety is essential, but professional screening at airports already provides for it. Giving the TSA as an official agency the additional authority to decide who gets to go where reaches beyond safety into overextended governmental power. This newly minted “Secure Flight” rule fundamentally imbalances long-standing citizens’ rights both to travel and to be left alone. If your name appears among hundreds of thousands on “watchlists,” you assert that the government should not require ID to fly, you don’t want to reveal your date of birth for concern about identity theft, or you don’t choose to declare your gender, you can stay home.
By combining the requirement for government photo IDs in order to fly with checking government watchlists including potentially every passenger, “Secure Flight” puts the federal government into the business of licensing travel. All travelers will need government OK in order to board a flight, or take a cruise. What the government can allow one day, it can forbid the next. All things considered, isn’t this a higher-tech and later-day version of South African domestic passports or eastern European checkpoints? In fact, because of the high technological capacity of the U.S. version, aren’t its implications for travel control of plane, train, bus and subway travel much more far reaching? It’s incredible that something like this is happening relatively unrecognized in America.