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We don't need to show our darn ID

Opinion Editorial
December 4, 2005

By Jon Caldara

The new Rosa Parks? Probably not. But Deborah Davis could become an icon for privacy.

Davis is the woman who refused to show her ID to security officers at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood and may be prosecuted for her crime. The center is technically federal property and home to about 7,000 employees and up to 2,000 visitors a day.

The law allows ID checks for those entering federal facilities a post 9-11 and post Oklahoma City bombing reality. But funny thing, Davis wasn’t going to the Federal Center. Her feet didn’t even touch the ground of the Federal Center (until security forced them to). She was barely passing through, but even that wasn’t her choice. She was taking an RTD bus to her job. One of the stops along the way was the Federal Center. Security guards often board the bus and demand to see IDs of the passengers.

Now there may be some reason to check IDs of those who get off the bus at the center, although you’d think they’d get checked when they enter one of the buildings. But it makes little sense to harass the passengers who are staying on the bus to get to their future stop. These folks would rather have no Federal Center stop at all, so they could get to their stop faster.

Americans are under no obligation to carry ID. Although driver’s license has become a de facto ID, its purpose is to prove that the operator of the car is licensed to do so. You are not required to carry a driver’s license when you are not driving.

Public choice theory comes into play here. Undoubtedly there are a few folks who like being asked for identification. It gives them a sense of security. But for most, it is a mild hassle. The much larger hassle would be to refuse. That would mean they would be dragged off the bus and prosecuted, like Davis. The self-interested decision is to go along like hapless sheep.

I have no idea who Deborah Davis is, what her politics are, or what her reason for taking a stand is. But I commend her for challenging the advancing big-brother state.

Another uppity traveler is John Gilmore, who in July of 2002 politely refused to show his ID at San Francisco International airport when attempting to fly to D.C. After working his way up the bureaucracy he was informed that showing ID was a directive of the newly formed Transportation Security Administration, or TSA. When asked to see the specific regulation he was told those regulations were secret.

There may be good reasons to mandate identification to board aircraft. There is no good reason to keep government regs secret. It’s hard to challenge a law you can’t see. Gilmore’s lawsuit will be appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Dec. 8, the day before Deborah Davis’s scheduled court date.

Let’s remember, the 9-11 hijackers were asked for their IDs too. Having them didn’t stop what happened.

Congress has taken a sizable step toward a national ID system. In May it passed the “Real ID Act” by attaching it to the Iraq War spending supplement. Clever. This unfunded mandate requires that states’ driver’s licenses become standardized and that the state copy and store the “breeder documents” that back up a driver’s license (birth certificate, Social Security card, etc.). So instead of imposing a national ID card, Congress will just make it hard for anyone who doesn’t have a federally approved license to go about their business.

And just like the 99.999 percent of RTD passengers on Route 100 going through the Federal Center, state governments will make the self-interested decision to go along with the new federal mandates, creating a pseudo-national ID card, because fighting it just isn’t worth all the hassle of fighting the Real ID Act.

Other nations have made identification compulsory. Beginning this year Holland requires everyone 14 and older to carry ID and show it to authorities when demanded.

If the United States is going to turn into a “your papers please” state, we need to have that debate openly. Instead, we are sliding down a slippery slope to it. On one hand we have creeping laws and regulations (sometimes unseen). On the other we have the inconvenience and brain damage of standing up and challenging them.

A few more Deborah Davises, and maybe we’ll be forced to have the debate over this issue, the way we should.
First Appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera on Sunday December 4th 2005.