America's New War?
By James W. Brosnan
Scripps Howard News Service
November 08, 2001
WASHINGTON - The nation's airlines said Thursday they want the federal government to issue identification cards for air travelers.
The cards would be voluntary for U.S. citizens who want to avoid most hassles at airport screening checkpoints but mandatory for aliens living and traveling in the United States.
The Air Transport Association, the lobbying arm of the major airlines, has discussed the matter with administration officials. But White House deputy press secretary Claire Buchan said, "That idea is not under consideration at this time."
Transport Association president Carol Hallet outlined the proposal at a press conference, where it was announced that the 14 major airlines have fitted security bars or other reinforcements to the cockpit doors in all planes. Together, the carriers have more than 4,000 planes.
The next step in post-Sept. 11 defense is a "system that focuses on people and threats and not just finding things" in bags, said Hallet. "We need to know the passengers just as the cargo industry knows the shippers."
Actually, they would know a little more.
Those wanting the identity card would not only have to provide personal information, but submit to fingerprinting, eye scans or another biometric test that would be imprinted in the card.
The card would not allow people to avoid airport metal detectors or even an occasional random search of bags. But it would mean that screeners could focus more attention on people without identity cards, association officials explained.
When a person made an airline reservation his name would be checked against a national database linked to FBI and other criminal databases. A person without an ID would be subject to more intensive searches.
Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union, complained that the proposal would be the forerunner to a national ID card, and hardly voluntary.
"For those passengers who don't have one of these cards, you're going to be subjected to very intrusive and embarrassing searches and questions," he said.
Because of widespread identity theft in the United States, it wouldn't keep terrorists from obtaining cards, he argued.
"It poses a great privacy risk to the good guys and no real obstacle to the bad guys," said Steinhardt.
The proposal comes as the airlines find themselves under fire for lapses by the contractors they hire to screen passengers and bags. The airlines are supporting a federal takeover of screening, either through federal employees or federal contracting.
Airlines are resisting proposals to allow pilots to carry guns or to match every checked bag to an on-board passenger before departure.
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