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Wednesday, January 19, 2011
'Freedom Flier' Or Royal Pain?
By Lloyd Jojola
Copyright © 2011 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
Phillip Mocek's refusal to show an ID while passing through security at the Albuquerque airport triggered a confrontation that led to his arrest on criminal charges scheduled to play out this week in an Albuquerque courtroom.
The case has drawn the attention of some civil liberties advocates, among them "The Identity Project," which called Mocek of Seattle a "freedom flier."
After months that included numerous continuances, Moeck is scheduled to appear Thursday in Metropolitan Court, where he faces misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, concealing his identity, refusing to obey a police officer and criminal trespass.
The police report and charging document paint a picture of someone who refused to present his ID while going through the screening area on Nov. 15, 2009, and "began causing a disturbance by yelling and then proceeded to photograph the surrounding checkpoint area, TSA agents and passengers." Mocek, 36, was taken into custody by city Aviation Department police.
Police allege he also refused to provide other information that would verify who he was.
"When the interaction between the TSA and those who use the airport to fly escalates to a certain point, we have an obligation to stop the action, stop the activity and find some harmonious level ground to satisfy the needs of the passengers and the TSA," Aviation Police Chief Marshall Katz said in an interview.
Neither Mocek nor his legal counsel would discuss the case at this point.
But it appears Mocek has been challenging the flight rules for at least a few years.
According to a 2008 McClatchy Newspapers story that appeared in The Seattle Times and elsewhere, Mocek decided he didn't like the idea of having to prove his identity to board a jet after reading about a court case challenging travel rules.
"I object to what I see as the federal government making a requirement for me to travel around my own country," Mocek said in the story. "So I started testing the system."
In the Albuquerque case, Mocek, a Southwest Airlines passenger, was asked for his ID by the TSA when he entered the checkpoint, according to a written statement from a TSA officer that is part of the police report.
Mocek said "he did not have any form of identification" and was turned over to another officer for "additional screening."
Mocek was asked if he had anything that would help verify his identity. He said "he did not want to provide identification and that he was to understand that he was not required to," the statement reads. "I informed passenger Mocek that he was correct and that I could verify his identity another way, however if he had anything with his name on it that it would help with the process. Passenger Mocek responded and stated that he wouldn't provide anything because it was his right not to."
Mocek was told the Security Operations Center would be contacted to attempt to verify his identity with other information, and that if they could not verify his identification, he would not be allowed to go through the checkpoint.
The TSA officer said Mocek also appeared to be taking pictures or videotaping the process and was told to stop. Mocek said it was his right to take pictures in an area accessible to the public.
Aviation police intervened, and after Mocek began creating a disturbance, he was ordered to leave the airport, according to a criminal complaint. When Mocek refused, he was placed under arrest.
Passengers 18 and older are required to show a valid U.S. federal or state-issued ID that has a name, date of birth, gender, expiration date and a tamper-resistant feature, according to the TSA.
"A passenger that refuses to provide any ID and will not cooperate in the identity verification process will not be allowed to enter the screening checkpoint," reads the TSA website.
"If you lose your primary ID or it has expired, TSA may accept other forms of ID to help verify your identity."
Luis Casanova, TSA regional spokesman, said in an interview, "Let's suppose the person has nothing. There's a number we call — and I can't give out the information, obviously — but it's a department within (the Department of Homeland Security). It's the same ones that manage the watch lists and things like that.
"But essentially you give your name a host of information about you comes up."
Through that information, known only to you, your identity is verified, he said.
Most travelers through the Albuquerque International Sunport seem not to have a problem showing ID.
"The Sunport handles on an average calendar year about 6 million passengers just flying out," Police Chief Katz said. "I can tell you based on being there almost nine years, this is a very rare occurrence, and the truth of the matter is ... in this country the average person who flies understands the concept, why it's in place, and they comply."