Slowing down airport security: are you serious?

Canberra wants to saddle the air travel system, already groaning under added costs and regulations for the past decade, with yet another layer of bureaucracy to fix a problem that essentially has nothing to do with air travellers.

The Age last week broke the news that the federal government would be asked to approve a new system under which passengers would be required to produce photo identification before boarding domestic flights “as part of the biggest recommended overhaul of airport and maritime security since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US”.

The Age reported the recommendation was in a report by the federal parliamentary joint committee on law enforcement into the failure of existing security measures to combat organised crime in the aviation and maritime sectors.

The committee was understood to have identified drugs as the focus of most organised criminality in the aviation and maritime sectors, but says tax evasion, money laundering, fraud, identity theft and high-tech crimes are also being committed.

The committee, chaired by the Labor senator Steve Hutchins, also found that ''the e-ticketing process introduces further vulnerabilities, increasing the opportunity for organised criminal networks to exploit the sector for illicit gain''.

So far the government’s only reaction has been to threaten an inquiry into the leaking of the committee’s report, while the airlines are dead against the proposal. The airlines believe it would cause major delays at boarding gates and would defeat the objective of recent technology improvements designed to cut red tape, delays and costs for passengers.

Bluntly, the government should knock this nonsense on the head unless it can be clearly demonstrated that it is necessary, that it will be effective and will not increase costs to consumers.

Travellers have been very patient and accommodating of the time-consuming hassle that air travel has become in the past decade, even though the security bureaucracy here and overseas appears to be making up the rules as it goes along. The recent uproar in the US over privacy breaches by often poorly trained airport security staff reminded unelected officials that they can’t just do what they like.

Bureaucrats in Australia can’t just assume that travellers will submit to even more inconvenience, especially since we now have a greatly enhanced intelligence and security apparatus with access to new technology designed to run background checks on people without further hassling those already standing in security lines at airports.

The Age reports Qantas is believed to have argued against the mandatory use of photo ID, claiming that elderly people, infants and people who don't have a driver's licence might not be able to meet requirements.

However, the committee is believed to have rejected Qantas's view, suggesting those unable to provide photo ID should produce a signed statutory declaration confirming their identity before boarding.

Are you serious? People without ID would have to go and find a justice of the peace to sign a piece of paper to give them permission board an aircraft. The people proposing such regulations have to be reeled in, in my view.

There’s a whole class of bureaucrats in Canberra who appear to think people “won’t mind” a little more Big Brother intrusion. I personally have nothing to hide but I am alarmed that there are some people ruling over us apparently determined to put in place what amount to abuses of privacy that could be used in future by people with far more anti-democratic intentions.

Besides, argues former SMH aviation writer Ben Sandilands, being able to produce photo ID at an airport ultimately tells the system next to nothing that’s worth knowing.

Do you think air travellers should be required to produce photo ID? Are you happy with the current airport system? Do you think it’s reasonable that more security measures are introduced to combat organised crime?