Better Suspected Than Ejected


New at Reason: You may have heard how John Gilmore, the Sun Microsystems millionaire, domestic air travel dissident and plaintiff in Gilmore v. Ashcroft, et al, got booted off a British Airways flight recently for sporting a "Suspected Terrorist" button. To honor this solemn occasion, and to better serve you, our valued readers, we're publishing a little early Brian Doherty's August cover story, which explores Gilmore's quest and the dubious benefits of demanding picture IDs from air travelers.

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  1. Two words: “enemy combatant.” Ship him off to Gitmo.

  2. But he can’t get on the plane to get there…

  3. Gilmore is a jerk. If he really wanted to make a difference, or stand on principle, he should run for office. His grandstanding will amount to nothing – except continued inconvenience and earning him the wrath of fellow travelers who are delayed due to his antics.

  4. What all these stories prove is that we all have the right to be complete assholes (me included, by way of anticipating flaming responses). Why leftists like to celebrate that so much I’ll never understand.

  5. But isn’t the underlying issue unwarranted intrusion into our personal lives. Granted the point he has chosen for his stand is dubious, but what about purchases where the retailer inquires as to your postal/zip code, or phone #? The less my government knows about me and my likes/dislikes the better I feel. They can find out all they need come election day.

  6. John Gilmore:

    “I declined, saying that it was a political statement and that he had no right to censor passengers’ political speech. ”

    First, British Airways _owns_ the planes, and with property ownership comes the right to discriminate and censor. Just as much as they can choose to not allow obese people to take up two seats while paying for one, they can kick off passengers who “frighten” (however irrationally) other passengers. The only loophole that I see is the important fact that he had a ticket. However, I assume that part of BA’s policy is one of: “If the pilot doesn’t like it, get off” and I suspect it is written somewhere on his ticket. Since when did libertarians think “free speech” meant “do as you please on other people’s property”?

    Note: My backpack displays a “Make Profits Not War” button. After 9/11, I got some VERY evil eyes from TSA, and once in the terminal I decided to take it off. This was based on my prediction that some neocon on the plane would scream “terrorist” and point to me. I chose to avoid that…

  7. He should have selected another cause to make a point. In any case, I flew Southwest a few times before 9/11. In each case, I bought the tickets online and I was asked for picture ID at the gate. I also had to show picture ID to Alaska Airlines after a company I did work for bought me tickets online the day after their big crash (and on the same type of aircraft). Maybe they were trying to send me a message or something.

  8. “…but what about purchases where the retailer inquires as to your postal/zip code, or phone #? The less my government knows about me and my likes/dislikes the better I feel.”

    Uh…retailers are private entities…if you don’t want to give your ZIP, then don’t. You’re not trying to equate giving your ZIP to Borders Bookstore to “my government”…?

  9. i’m semi behind his efforts but come on, if you force a plane loaded with 300 people back to the terminal just because you won’t take off a “politacal statement” pin your just an asshole. how many people missed connecting flights or had ruined plans because of his grandstanding?

  10. If you don’t want to give somebody your zip just rattle off “90210”. Works for me.

  11. Mike’s interpretation of the law (British Airways owns the airplanes so they can kick off whoever they want) is a little off. British Airways indeed owns the planes, but they’re licensed by the government and can’t operate without government approval; in that sense, the government can indeed impose conditions on the company — such as, you can’t discriminate against people for exercising their free speech.

    In the United States, this would be a pretty clear-cut case against British Airways (Gilmore refers to the one case where the courts ruled against an airline for not allowing a Middle Eastern man to fly because he made the pilot feel “uncomfortable”). The law in Britain may well be different. But even if BA was within its rights, and even if Gilmore is a jerk, this kind of action does not make me feel any more confident that the Free World is committed to actually protecting freedom.

  12. Thus, the ID demand — apparently the result of the still-secret government mandate — serves no necessary state purpose and violates his right to travel, his rights to peaceably assemble and to petition his government for redress of grievances, and his Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches.

    Um, those second two — assembly and petition — do not impose upon the government (or anyone else, for that matter) an obligation to transport you or to allow you to use any particular form of transportation. That part of the case, at least, is patent silliness.

    Mr. Gilmore could as easily drive from his abode to his Congresscritter’s office, and not have to show an ID to anyone at all. For that matter, he could walk, if that’s what he wanted to do. He could, in fact, afford to charter a jet. He has an infinite number of options that don’t include flying a passenger airline. And so, pretty much, does everyone else.

  13. I understand Mr. Gilmore’s point, which I think is valid, although I agree that he probably could have made the point in a more effective way.
    If any of you haven’t read Penn Jillette’s essay in the Cato Institute’s Regulation magazine, called “A great Gag for the Airport”, I suggest you do. He has a very funny way to make a political statement about intrusive security at the expense of constitutional rights. Basically he takes a small metal card with the bill of rights on it through the detector, and when it goes off, he says ” Oh, that’s just my constitutional rights, here- TAKE THEM.” And the point is made without scaring anyone with something that might be misconstrued as a threat.
    The full essay:

  14. Aside from the validity and effectiveness of the policy of requiring passengers to show ID (it wouldn’t have affected the 9/11 highjackings, for example), there are a couple of points in the article that are worth looking at.

    First, don’t miss the hilarious exchange between the federal judge and the US Attorney, where the US Attorney neither confirms nor denies the existence of a regulatory mandate, but then tells a FEDERAL JUDGE that if a mandate did exist, he couldn’t give her a copy so she can evaluate whether it is void for vagueness. The sad thing is, the judge is going to have to think for several months about whether a regulation that no one is allowed to see is void for vagueness.

    Second, this isn’t an argument about whether a private airline can require you to show ID. This is an argument about whether the federal government can impose such a requirement, and impose it via a secret rule, no less.

  15. David: Not directly, no. But who gets access to Borders’ database? On what basis is that info. disseminated? Does Borders profit from this? Generally, I just make up a phony and move through the check-out, but it is annoying.

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