City to refuse airport access to scofflaws
June 31, 2002 (UPI) -- The City of Denver is cracking down on scofflaws who ignore parking tickets, traffic citations, and civil judgments by refusing to allow them to fly until they pay up. The same computer systems and ID checks used to spot terrorists can also recognize other miscreants, and the city -- with the cooperation of the airlines, who are its tenants -- is taking the opportunity to identify them and dun them for money.
The financially squeezed city government is pursuing this new tactic in an
attempt to stay in the black despite the recent downturn in the economy. "We
own the airport," noted Denver mayor Frederico Peña, "and have
the right to refuse admission to anyone. Why not use that leverage to collect
the money that these people owe? If we can catch a deadbeat dad, or collect
on a photo radar ticket or a delinquent utility bill simply by watching who
passes through the airport, why not do so?" says Peña, who points
out that tickets issued to visitors from out of state, in particular, frequently
go unpaid if the traveler is allowed to depart for home.
Civil libertarians have complained that the city's practices are "Big
Brotherish" and infringe upon the citizens' constitutional right to travel.
But now that the public has gotten used to intrusive searches and similar inconveniences
as a condition of airline travel, protests against the new measures have been
muted at best.
"September 11 changed everything," said Peña. "If someone
breaks the law and won't own up to it, should we trust him to board an airplane?"
The mayor also noted that by simply catching those who owed money in civil judgments
at the airport, the sheriff's department could save time and money. "We
don't have to go to them; they come to us. And faced with the choice of paying
or forfeiting valuable airline tickets, they usually pay."
The success of the program has encouraged the city -- which also originated
the famed "Denver boot" -- to consider other measures, such as refusing
to allow a vehicle to leave the airport's parking lots unless the owner squares
with the city. (This tactic would nab offenders who were not flying but came
to the airport to drop off or pick up a friend or relative.) And if this is
a success, the city may go one step further. It is, says Peña, considering
using its clout to collect debts for private companies... for a fee, of course.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brett Glass, who frequently writes articles and columns for popular computer publications such as PC Magazine, occasionally engages in political satire and/or social commentary such as the bogus news item above. The dateline bearing an impossible date and a reference to the defunct UPI newswire, as well as quotes attributed to Frederico Peña, are tipoffs that something is amiss. (Peña was mayor of Denver many years ago, but retired after laying the groundwork for the inconvenient and costly monstrosity that is Denver International Airport. His political prowess was rewarded with an appointment to the Clinton cabinet as Transportation Secretary.)
Unfortunately, while the item above is fictitious, the danger of intrusions upon civil liberties such as the ones mentioned above is all too real.