Steve Chapman

But in 1995, Washington mandated that all travelers show government-approved identification before boarding a flight. The freedom to travel without federal permission was gone. The no-fly list further limited that liberty.

After 9/11, the requirement served the purpose of helping keep violent fanatics off airliners. What no one seems to notice is that other improvements in security have made this one a needless burden.

The government required airlines to install reinforced cockpit doors to keep hijackers from taking the controls. It tightened security rules -- banning penknives, lighters, ski poles, snow globes, and liquids except in tiny bottles.

It initiated random pat-downs of travelers and gave extra scrutiny to those who did suspicious things. It deployed thousands of armed air marshals.

Equally important, travelers changed their mindset, meaning that terrorists can no longer count on passive victims. On several occasions -- starting with United Flight 93 on 9/11 -- passengers have acted to foil attacks.

With all these layers of protection in place, the rationale for the no-fly list has crumbled. Even if someone on the list can get on a plane, his chance of taking it over or bringing it down is very close to zero. And you know the other good thing? The same holds for an aspiring terrorist who doesn't make the list.

The government's tedious insistence on identifying all travelers and grounding some may convey an illusion of security. But we could live -- and I do mean live --without it.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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