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Originally published April 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 14, 2008 at 2:02 PM

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If truth be told, you don't always need ID for domestic flights

ID not always needed for domestic flights, but TSA keeps policy quiet

McClatchy Newspapers

Flying across the country? Leave your pocketknife in the car. Don't carry more than a few ounces of liquids onto the plane. And don't forget that ID.

Wait? ID? Turns out travelers don't need ID on a domestic flight.

Sure enough, leaving it behind will buy you hassle. It will probably annoy those in line behind you as the bottleneck of security slows from crawl to standstill. And it means you're in for a thorough frisking and a greater likelihood that the possessions you've dragged along on your journey will be tested for traces of explosives.

But the Transportation Security Administration concedes you should still be able to board that domestic flight. Consider the travels of Phillip Mocek, a Seattle software developer. A few years ago he read about a court case challenging various U.S. travel rules and decided he didn't like the idea of having to prove his identity to board a jet.

"I object to what I see as the federal government making a requirement for me to travel around my own country," Mocek said. "So I started testing the system."

Two or three years ago — he can't recall exactly when he started — Mocek headed out on trips with his driver's license planted firmly out of view. ("I still carried it with me. My need to get places, if necessary, would have overridden my desire to flex my rights.")

And time and again, he got where he wanted to go. He'd arrive at an airport with his boarding pass already printed and head to the security check.

"I would say, 'I don't have any ID to show you.' I very clearly did not want to lie, but I did not want to anger somebody by saying, 'I don't want to show you my ID,"' Mocek said, conceding he was parsing words.

Each time he would be subject to extra clearance — "I understand that's the way it is now" — but he always got cleared to fly.

After a visit last month to see family, he went to Kansas City International Airport to catch his flight back to Seattle.

To his thinking, the questions from the private security detail at the facilities' far-flung gates seemed more intrusive than he'd experienced elsewhere. (Kansas City is one of only a handful of U.S. airports whose screeners are employed by a private company. Most airport screeners are employed by the TSA.) He thought that being sent back to the airline counter for another boarding pass was unnecessary. But in the end, with the usual extra frisking, he flew without pulling out his ID.

Still, he was particularly annoyed at signs at the airport declaring that a government ID was required to fly. So when he returned home, he logged onto the TSA Web site and posted a complaint.

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Eventually, a TSA official wrote back.

"TSA requires travelers to produce a valid form of government-issued ID to verify that the name on the travel document matches the ID," the response said.

But then it went on in seeming contradiction: "If a traveler is unwilling or unable to produce a valid form of ID, the traveler is required to undergo additional screening at the checkpoint to gain access to the secured area of the airport."

So an ID is required, except that it's not.

"If you have an ID," TSA spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said in an interview, "we highly encourage that you use that ID, because it speeds up the process not only for you but for anybody behind you in line."

But allowances are made for the ID-free, she said, "because we have to put something in place for people who are on a trip and lose their ID."

That said, the agency's specific policy remains officially secret.

Even without an ID, McCauley said, such passengers should not pose an extra security threat. Their names are still cross-checked against the federal no-fly list of potential terrorists. Their baggage, like every other passenger's, is electronically screened, and the travelers are searched more thoroughly than most people with identification.

The ID-free baggage check — determined by TSA rules — is possible. It takes longer, and luggage tags will be marked "No ID." But airlines move the process along.

The process just hasn't always been consistent. When John Gilmore, the millionaire founder of Sun Microsystems, tried to board a flight in 2002 without ID, he was denied. He sued the government, asking for the details of its boarding policy. He ultimately failed.

But responses like the one sent by TSA to Mocek expose bits of it at a time.

"There should be accurate notice from the government about rules that apply to citizens, and the notice that you need ID doesn't seem accurate," said Peter Swire, a law professor at Ohio State University and the chief counselor for privacy during the Clinton administration.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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