Groups ask high court to review aviation ID policies

Civil libertarians this week asked the Supreme Court to hear a case challenging a secret law that governs travelers in American airports.

The case involves a Southwest Airlines customer who sued the government over the civilian passenger-identification policy, which he argues is unconstitutional. The four-year-old lawsuit was dismissed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January after being rejected by a lower court two years earlier. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and others filed briefs in the case backing plaintiff John Gilmore.

The policy in question requires passengers to present IDs to airline personnel before boarding flights and subjects selected individuals to thorough searches. Gilmore alleges that when he refused to show ID or undergo a search, he was not allowed to board his flight from Oakland, Calif., to the Washington area.

Gilmore claims that because the government will not disclose the content of its ID policy, it is vague and violated his right to due process. He also alleges that when he was not allowed to fly, the Transportation Security Administration violated his right to travel and be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The plaintiff said he is making a political statement by not possessing a government-issued ID card. During a teleconference with reporters Tuesday, he called himself a "canary in a coal mine" in an era where not showing ID makes someone an "un-person."

TSA has said details of the ID requirement are "sensitive security information." In friend-of-the-court briefs, Gilmore's supporters maintain that Congress never intended to give agencies sweeping discretion to impose requirements on citizens without allowing review of the rules.

Congress gave TSA "virtually unchecked discretion to withhold information from the American public," and in its zeal for secrecy, the government "sidestepped the Constitution," a brief from the Reporters Committee and the American Society of Newspaper Editors said.

EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann said "simply showing Americans the rules they must follow can't possibly compromise security." The real danger in this case is "meaningless secrecy," which can hide security flaws and undermine government accountability, she said.

If the lower court is not overruled, other federal agencies could create undisclosed regulations without oversight, EFF said. The American Library Association, Center for Democracy and Technology, Federation of American Scientists, National Security Archive and others signed onto the filing.

Solicitor General Paul Clement argued in the government's opposition brief that Congress gave TSA the authority to take "necessary actions to improve domestic air transportation," and setting rules to protect passengers against criminal acts is part of that charge.

If the high court agrees to hear the case, it will be the "first real challenge" to increased security measures instituted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said Bill Scannell, a spokesman for Gilmore.

The case also comes as a new Democratic-led Congress begins to outline its priorities for January. Oversight hearings on actions the Bush administration has taken to fight terrorism are expected to be high on the agenda.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.