REAL-ID Act amendments don’t address the real ID problem

In response to fears by the travel industry (fueled by government lies) that businesses dependent on air travel will lose money if their would-be customers are prevented by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from flying because they don’t have ID credentials that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deems sufficiently “compliant”, a proposal was introduced in Congress this week by Rep. Debbie Lesko of Arizona to amend the REAL-ID Act of 2005.

What’s really called for, though, is repeal, not revision, of the REAL-ID Act, and explicit Congressional recognition that travel by common carrier is a right that cannot be conditioned on government-issued credentials or other permission. The amendments proposed in H.R. 5827 would only exacerbate the Constitutional flaws in the REAL-ID Act, and would do nothing to rein in the TSA and other DHS components in their violations of travelers’ rights.

H.R. 5827 appears to have been drafted by travel industry lobbyists. Its provisions exactly match the recommendations of the U.S. Travel Association, the umbrella trade association for the travel industry in the USA. Rep. Lesko’s press release announcing the filing of H.R. 5827 quotes endorsements for the bill from spokespeople for U.S. Travel and its constituent trade associations of airlines, airports (which in the US are almost all publicly operated, but tend to act like self-interested businesses rather than operating in the public interest), and travel agents. No advocates for travelers , civil liberties, or freedom to travel are quoted — nor are they likely to endorse H.R. 5827 or the REAL-ID Act it would amend.

H.R. 5827 is styled as the “Trusted Traveler REAL ID Relief Act of 2020”, and is described as a bill “To exempt certain travelers from certain requirements of the REAL ID Act of 2005 for purposes of boarding a federally regulated commercial aircraft, and for other purposes.”

But what would H.R. 5827 actually do, and would that make things better or worse?

H.R. 5827 would exempt individuals certified as “trusted” by the TSA or CBP from some of the “credential requirements” of the REAL-ID Act:

For purposes of boarding a federally regulated commercial aircraft, the credential requirements of section 202 of the REAL ID Act of 2005 (Public Law 109–13; 49 U.S.C. 30301) shall not apply to an individual who provides to the Transportation Security Administration the Known Traveler Number assigned to such individual through such individual’s flight reservation.

DEFINITION.—In this section, the term ‘‘Known Traveler Number’’ means a number assigned to an individual and accepted by the Transportation Security Administration as validating that the individual holding such identifier is a member of a known low-risk population, such as TSA’s PreCheck trusted traveler program or U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program.

The intent of the travel industry in proposing this provision is, presumably, to make sure that their highest-spending frequent-traveler customers will be exempted from the TSA’s threatened harassment and/or interference with travelers’ rights, and that all the burdens of REAL-ID Act “enforcement” are inflicted on would-be airline passengers who are less frequent travelers, less able or willing to pay “trusted traveler” program fees, and/or less willing to waive their Constitutional rights in the hope of being deemed “trusted”….

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