Rant: "Security" on the Amtrak

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When taking the Amtrak to my professor's house, I was shocked that the conductor on board the train asked for IDs as well as tickets. I understand that Greyhound buses also are requiring IDs. What has the U.S. come to? Are we living that much in a culture of fear that we allow this?

Of course the standard response is "security" but what security are we gaining?

  1. First, there is no security to be gained. The conductors only glance at the name and photo. Any bad guy can buy a fake ID for $50 at a college campus (or make their own with an Epson printer and Photoshop) that would pass scrutiny. So we gain no security.
  2. Second, for the honest people this means that people without licenses, passports, or State ID cannot ride the train. This is a group of people that largely includes the urban poor and recent immigrants. Suddenly, we are restricting the travel of a certain class of people. This should bring up shades of Plessy v. Ferguson for most reasonable people.

Has America become a police state where you aren't allowed to travel unless you have your identification papers in order? I guess this isn't even a rhetorical question anymore.

I should note that in Japan, we don't check IDs on either inter-city airplanes, buses, or trains. When I take domestic flights, no ID is checked. And yes, a terrible incident of domestic terrorism happened in the Japanese subway stations (the Aum Sarin gas poisoning), but aside from the garbage cans disappearing from train platforms, we've come through remarkably calmly.

In Japan, we have no national id number (like the American social security number). Many Japanese don't have driver's licenses, so that can't be used as a national ID card and there is no equivalent "State ID" card for non-drivers. Many people show their national health cards for ID when buying into a cellphone plan, for example, but the health cards have no photographs on them and there is no unified ID number on them either, and you don't carry your health card with you unless you really need to. So unless the domestic airplane carriers were financially suicidal, they couldn't ask for IDs even if they wanted to.

p.s. Folks will note that I use 'we' in this blog to mean either Japanese and Americans in different paragraphs. Welcome to my complex identity politics.

Why does Amtrak/Greyhound like this new ID regime? Tickets with names on them makes it difficult for people to buy and sell tickets on the secondary market. In Japan, we have Kinken shopts in front of every major station that will sell you rail or plane tickets at 20% off the retail price. They buy them from other travellers for 40-50% off and resell them, pocketing the profit. You can no longer do this in the States. Some people in America will remember the good old days when college bulletin boards and classified ads would indeed sell old plane tickets that you couldn't use. "Security" is often used as an excuse for increasing one's profit margin.


RE: Rant: "Security" on the Amtrak


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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on March 9, 2005 11:01 AM.

Rant: Amtrak vs. Shinkansen was the previous entry in this blog.

Rant: Control spartan vs. control profuse cameras is the next entry in this blog.

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