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How will you get on the plane if you're not Ted Kennedy?

By Tom DeWeese
web posted September 6, 2004

You hear the reports on the nightly news. The federal government is putting plans in place to protect you from terrorists. With each new program the media rushes to interview travelers on how they feel about the latest gimmick. It's sometimes downright painful to watch the typical, scared American telling the camera how much safer he now feels because Big Brother just thought up a new, efficient way to stifle his liberty in the name of safety.

The feds have put together a no-fly list to bar anyone with a name that even comes close to sounding like a terrorist from getting on the plane with you. Let's see how safe and happy you feel when your name gets on the list and you are refused access to the plane. Can't happen, you say? Your name doesn't sound anything like Abdullah or Ali? Then you haven't heard about the famous Kennedy sect of terrorists!

Yep, somehow Senator Ted Kennedy's name ended up on the federal no-fly list. I know…some readers may automatically assume that Ted Kennedy is a terrorist, but that isn't in the same spirit of the no-fly list and is a subject for another discussion.

A danger to the beverage cart perhaps, but not the airplane itself
A danger to the beverage cart perhaps, but not the airplane itself

Last March, Senator Kennedy was just trying to get on the shuttle flying between Washington, D.C and Boston, a flight he makes several times a month. It's a sure bet almost every employee working the airline counter knows the name of Senator Ted Kennedy, let alone his famous face. But this time, oops, as the dutiful employee entered the name into the computer, up pops Senator Ted Kennedy, possible terrorist – NO FLY! Again, Americans are protected from a potential terrorist attack. Whew.

But that's not the whole story here. When denied the right to board the plane, Senator Kennedy did what any outraged, high-powered, well-connected American would do. He threw his weight around and an intimidated supervisor let him on the plane.

Then, back in his office, the powerful Senator personally called Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge on his private line. Imagine having the main man on the case to get your name off the no-fly list. But even Ridge couldn't get the problem corrected right away. Three times Kennedy was denied passage. It took Ridge three weeks to get one of the best-known faces in America off the list.

Point of the story? What happens when the same mistake is made with your name? What will you do to correct the mistake? Do you have the ability to intimidate an airline supervisor? Do you have Tom Ridge's personal number? No? Then you won't fly – ever!

Government data banks are infamously riddled with errors. To government bureaucrats, you're just a name to be punched in. There's no thought behind the moving fingers. There's no concern over consequences when a mistake is made. It's just a job. Or worse. What happens if someone with the power to place names on the list has a grudge against you?

The government finds it easier to lock down law-abiding citizens in hopes of catching the bad guys in their net. Besides, the more hassles you have to endure, the easier it is to convince the general public that the government is actually doing something to protect you. The fact is few bad guys and a lot of innocent Americans are made to suffer. Powerful lists designed to deny freedoms isn't the way to fight terrorism.

There are more plans in the works beyond no-fly lists. Once in place, getting on the wrong list can cost you your bank account, your driver's license, your job, or even your home – all because of a typo from a minimum wage, apathetic worker.

ID cards, finger printing, retinal scans, and computer data banks won't catch terrorists who know how to beat the trap. There's only one way to live in such a police state. You have to know a Kennedy.

Tom DeWeese is the Publisher/Editor of The DeWeese Report and president of the American Policy Center. The Center maintains an Internet site at www.americanpolicy.org. © Tom DeWeese 2004

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • Is CAPPS II our ticket to better aviation security? by Steve Lilenthal (May 10, 2004)
    CAPPS II seems to be based on the wrong premise, says Steve Lilienthal, and Americans are owed more than simple promises that the system is actually going to do what the government is telling Americans it will do
  • What everyone should know about airport security by Dallas Pierce (July 29, 2002)
    If you think airline security is better this year than last year, Dallas Pierce will tell you differently. How does he know? He works in the airline industry
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