NO-FLY….There are — knock wood — no terrorist suspects named Kevin Drum, which means I probably won’t ever end up on the federal no-fly list. But it’s still a program that gives me the heebie jeebies. Today, at the end of a story about air marshals (!) being kept off flights because their names are wrongly on the no-fly list, we get this:

The Terrorist Screening Center announced April 10 it will automatically review nearly 500,000 names on its watch list that are frequently matched during airport screenings and other law-enforcement encounters with the general public, and remove those names that don’t belong to actual suspects.

Additionally, Mr. Chertoff announced Monday that each airline can now create a system of limited biographical data including a passenger’s date of birth to clear up watch list misidentifications.

….”Thousands of passengers are inconvenienced each day, and this change should provide a way to eliminate the vast majority of these situations. This is good for travelers and for security, because as we make the checkpoint environment calmer, it becomes easier to spot individuals with hostile intent,” Mr. Chertoff said.

First question: 500,000 names? Where are they getting this stuff? There can’t be even a tenth that number worldwide who are serious threats to air travel. Keep in mind that on 9/10/01 there were a grand total of 16 people on the list.

Second: it took until now, six years after 9/11 caused the listmakers to go crazy, to order TSC to review the list for common names and remove the ones that don’t belong? And it also took six years to put in place a program to allow innocent passengers to provide additional data to the airlines so they don’t get hassled every time they enter an airport? Crikey.

But here’s an answer to this problem. A partial answer anyway: national IDs. For reasons I don’t quite get, civil libertarians routinely go crackers over this idea, but we already live in a society that demands ID for lots and lots of things, and that’s not going to change. So if we’re going to demand ID, why not at least provide everyone with a free, standardized, secure ID? It would make air travel more convenient, it would eliminate most of the problems with voter ID laws, it would reduce the inanities involved in moving to a new state and not being able to sign up for local services because you don’t yet have any local ID, and the drawbacks would be….um….what would they be, actually? Plenty of other liberal democracies have had them for decades and seem to have stayed pretty liberal regardless.

Anyway, it’s not a panacea, but it would help. And the downside, even for privacy nuts like me, seems to consist mostly of vague images of jackbooted thugs standing around on street corners demanding to see our papers. In reality, though, it would mostly be a convenience and mostly wouldn’t change a thing. After all, we all have Social Security numbers already, and most of us have various picture IDs too. And we have to use them. What exactly would a national ID change about that aside from making it cheaper, easier, and more accurate?

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