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Airlines, IDs, and Slippery Slopes

Via boing boing, a message by John Gilmore posted to Declan McCullagh's Politech list:

My sweetheart Annie and I tried to fly to London today (Friday) on British Airways. We started at SFO, showed our passports and got through all the rigamarole, and were seated on the plane while it taxied out toward takeoff. Suddenly a flight steward, Cabin Service Director Khaleel Miyan, loomed in front of me and demanded that I remove a small 1" button pinned to my left lapel. I declined, saying that it was a political statement and that he had no right to censor passengers' political speech. The button, which was created by political activist Emi Koyama, says "Suspected Terrorist"...

The steward returned with Capt. Peter Hughes. The captain requested, and then demanded, that I remove the button (they called it a "badge"). He said that I would endanger the aircraft and commit a federal crime if I did not take it off. I told him that it was a political statement and declined to remove it.

They turned the plane around and brought it back to the gate, delaying 300 passengers on a full flight.

We were met at the jetway by Carol Spear, Station Manager for BA at SFO. She stated that since the captain had told her he was refusing to transport me as a passenger, she had no other course but to take me off the plane...

She said that passengers and crew are nervous about terrorism and that mentioning it bothers them, and that is grounds to exclude me. I suggested that if they wanted to exclude mentions of terrorists from the airplane, then they should remove all the newspapers from it too.

I asked whether I would be permitted to fly if I wore other buttons, perhaps one saying "Hooray for Tony Blair". She said she thought that would be OK. I said, how about "Terrorism is Evil". She said that I probably wouldn't get on. I started to discuss other possible buttons, like "Oppose Terrorism", trying to figure out what kinds of political speech I would be permitted to express in a BA plane, but she said that we could stand there making hypotheticals all night and she wasn't interested. Ultimately, I was refused passage because I would not censor myself at her command.

John has been making a principled stand against airlines' policies to demand identification for domestic flights (news here and here; FAQ here). For this international flight, he was willing to show his passport, but not to withdraw a political statement. I applaud him for his devotion to his principles.

While I understand why airlines might want to require IDs, I nevertheless believe that John is onto something important here. In the Soviet Union -- and presumably continuing in some countries today -- citizens were required to carry internal passports. Domestic travel was a privilege, not a right. Given the Bush administration's attitudes towards civil liberties, we could find ourselves on a slippery slope that leads to US citizens being required to show ID in order to travel anywhere.

Ask yourself: would you be shocked if a state were to require IDs for drivers and passengers to enter it? It's not a huge stretch: California, for one, already has checkpoints at many crossings, built for agricultural inspections but easily repurposable. I'd be angry, for sure; outraged, probably; but shocked? No.


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any private business has the right to refuse service to anyone they want. remember the first amendment only applies to the government. he should have removed the pin. his actions upset the plans of 300 people. how many of them missed connecting flights because he wanted to make a "political statement"? thats just being rude. if i had been on that plane i would have kicked his ass.

John, let's say that you're a supporter of President Bush and his war on terror. Imagine that you board a commercial flight wearing a t-shirt that says, "I support President Bush." Now imagine that the captain comes back and notifies you that your t-shirt is unacceptable and that you'll need to change clothes or be kicked off the flight. Would you view that as reasonable? Or what if you're especially patriotic and have dyed your hair red, white, and blue? What if that was unacceptable and you were kicked off?

Airlines are fairly heavily regulated by the government so I don't think they are strictly private businesses. A lot of civil rights issues were about segregation on private business run property as well.

Japan is pretty rude. The police have the right to stop any "foreigner" and ask for "their papers". It's pretty demeaning.

i wouldn't view it as reasonable and i don't really view what happened to gilmore as reasonable. i just said they have the right to do it. if i am not mistaken the pilot of an airplane is like the captain of a ship, his word is law and if you don't like it you can lump it. he's personally responsible for the lives of 300 people and doesn't have to take shit from anyone.
if regulation by the government makes a business a public entity then there is no such thing in this country as a "private" business. except maybe what happens in the black market. btw, i oppose the civil rights legislation that forced private business owners to serve those they don't want too. the civil rights bill of 1964 didn't free minorities it enslaved us all to the will of the government.

I'll attest to all of the above from experience. cheap I can think of another particularly helpful ticket exercise, though I wasn't aware of it at the lowest time: I was, some years back, even MORE hypercritical generlogies of my own writing and composing than I am now, discount and regrettably during that time I threw away flight a lot of material which I could've done something low with now. I had a real block around lyrics airfare for songs I was writing, in particular. And cheapest

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