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ID Checks at Airports Violate Fourth Amendment

PRESS RELEASE
August 20, 2004

EFF Protests Anti-Privacy Ruling in Appeal to the Ninth Circuit

California - US citizens may no longer have the right to travel without being searched. So says the District Court for the Northern District of California, which recently dismissed a case that questioned whether it is constitutional for airport security agents to demand identification papers from travelers. But the case, Gilmore v. Ashcroft, isn't going away. On Monday, counsel for plaintiff John Gilmore filed a brief with the Ninth Circuit, demanding that the court reverse this ruling and guarantee travelers the right to travel by air without the government requiring them to show identification papers.

On Thursday the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the plaintiff, arguing that compulsory ID checks at airports violate the Fourth Amendment. The law permits passengers to be searched only for weapons and explosives, and does not permit generalized searches as a condition for boarding commercial aircraft. Thus, forcing travelers to produce identification constitutes an illegal search and seizure. The government has failed to show a compelling reason why identity checks are necessary to prevent people from carrying weapons or explosives onto planes, or even any legal authority for demanding that passengers show identity papers.

"We are all concerned with keeping aviation safe and secure, but the Fourth Amendment does not allow screening for dangerous items to expand into a coercive demand for official identity papers," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl.

EFF friend-of-the-court brief [PDF].

Contacts:

Kurt Opsahl
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
kurt@eff.org

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