photo id ?!?!

Andrew Dalke adalke at
Tue Feb 12 22:30:26 CET 2002

Dear Guido, Foretec, and the Python community,

Last week I was almost unable to attend the Python conference.  Not
because I was sick, or unable to travel, but because I refused to
present photo id during registration.  [1]

I pointed out that half the conference probably knows who I am and
could vouch for me.  That was not allowed.  (On reconsideration,
that's more like 1/4th to 1/5th, but my point is that I could
establish a trust network.)

I offered to show my business card, and that was not allowed.  Photo
id or I would have to leave.

I said then that I would not attend with that requirement (especially
since it was sprung on me at the last moment), and asked for a refund.
I was told I would not get a refund without showing a photo id.

Frustrated I stood there not knowing what to do.  I pointed out they
should recognize me from the previous times I've been to the
conference and that I recognized a few of them, at least by face.
At this point, Fred Drake appeared and said "Hi Andrew" and welcomed
me to the conference.  (Thanks Fred!) The Foretec people finally
capitulated and allowed me to attend without showing photo id, after
saying they did somewhat recognize me from last year.

Attending the Python conference for five years, sending in bug reports,
improvements, documentation, contributing to comp.lang.python,
helping people learn the language, writing articles about Python,
promoting Python in the computational life sciences, founding
several open-source Python based projects including Biopython, presenting
papers, and posters at previous conferences, and organizing a BoF at
this one ... has some benefits.

I was told at this point that the reason for the photo id
requirement was 1) to prevent fraud, and 2) in this day and age
we cannot be too careful.

I understand the fraud part.  I know of two relevant forms of
fraud - illegal use of a credit card and identity theft.  If I
had known beforehand I would have sent a check a month early so
that it would clear before I attended, or I would have brought
cash with me to pay at the conference itself.  As to the identity
theft, I had with me the printout from my registration, which
contained the confirmation code.  That should be a unique and
relatively well hidden information.

Upon review of the conference registration materials, I see that
Foretec charges $50 for substitutions made to the reservation.
I suppose I could defraud them of that charge if I weren't me, but
were that the case I would still rather pay the extra $50 than
present photo id.  I still would complain about the unjustified
claim of theft implicit in that charge.  I also note that people
who registered on-site, in person, were still required to show id,
so this can't be the sole reason for this policy.

Therefore I assert that there are other ways to handle the fraud
issue than to require photo id.

As to the "in this day and age" claim.  First off, I find it
outrageous to believe that showing photo id for the conference has
any bearing on the state of terrorism in the world.  After all,
everyone on those planes showed photo id.  Israel has mandantory
id yet also has many acts of political violence.  The UK had
mandantory id but that didn't eliminate with violent protests related
to Ireland, while it did enforce discriminitory practices.  As
far as I can research, nationwide mandantory identification papers
does not reduce crime nor does it prevent acts of violence.

But in a deeper, more philosophical sense, I will not show photo
id for a conference because it represents an undue and completely
inappropriate government influence on my activities.  I have
two forms of photo id - a driver's license and a passport.  The
first gives me license to drive and the second one gives me the
right to enter and leave national boundaries.  Both are revocable
at will by the government.  Neither has any relevance to the Python

Why should revocation of those two forms of id give just cause
to prevent my from attending the Python conference?  For that matter,
it means that having my wallet stolen has an all too serious and
drastic effect on my life.  (Had it been stolen in DC I would have
been unable to show ID; and I don't know how I would have gotten home!
For fear of that, I left my driver's license at my friends' house
while I played tourist in DC after the conference.)

In addition, stretching more into my personal history, I come from
a family of non-denominational Protestant missionaries, who have
worked in Baptista-era Cuba, Velasco and Lara-era Ecuador, and
Duvalier-era Haiti.  These were all autocratic governments.  One
of the things I took to heart from family stories was that freedom
and liberty includes the right to travel and conduct business without
having to get government permission for everything.

I am proud that is it possible even now in the US for people to live
and prosper without needing any sort of photo id and suffer only
relatively few difficulties.  I could have taken a bus, train,
hitchhiked, biked, chartered a plane, or even canoed to get to DC,
without needing ID along the way.

(Let me caution that I am not claiming the US is a police state or
other sorts of rash claims.  I am stating one of several reasons for
why I have such strongly held beliefs on this matter.  I happen to
also believe this matter can be resolved such that Foretec and I are
both happy with the result.)

I have attended many conferences and meetings over the last 16 years,
ranging in size from 20 to 6,000.  I've helped organize several
conferences - the largest at about 1/2 the size of Python10.  The only
time I needed to show id was when the meeting was on a military base,
and the base (not the conference organizers) needed to identify non-US
citizens.  In that case, we had plenty of warning beforehand that IDs
were needed.  Otherwise, I know from experience that IDs are not needed
for a conference like this. [2]

When I complained about this to Michel Sanner, he kidded me that I
was acting like a real American - complaining about government
control and living in the Southwest where life is more free.  I take
that as a compliment.  I chose my lifestyle carefully and I want to
keep it that way.  I will not voluntarily allow government intrusion
where it has no business, and I will continue to deny meaningless
access to government issued documents [3].

I would like to attend my 6th Python conference next year, but
cannot do so without compromising my strongly held beliefs unless
Foretec changes their policies.  What I ask as a result of this
complaint is one of two possibilities:

  - Foretec provide a mechanism to let people attend without showing
photo id.  I outlined two ways to do this: I can pay in cash at the
desk, or I can send in a check beforehand and present a confirmation

  - The Python organizers choose someone other than Foretec to
handle the conference; someone who does not have this requirement.
To guarantee that that is possible, I will offer now to help organize
next year's conference here in Santa Fe.  At the very least, the
downtown hotels are within blocks of a lot of restaurants, shops,
and galleries, which would be a nice change from the last four
conferences where we all stayed in the hotel the whole time.

                    Andrew Dalke
                    dalke at

[1] "photo id" - I own two pieces of photo id; my driver's license
and my passport.  Both are government issued and revocable on
demand by the government.  In the above I deliberately assume
"government issued photo id" because there were no guidelines for
what constituted a valid photo id.  I had my camera with me and
somehow doubt that taking a picture of myself, making a printout,
and signing my name would have counted.

[2] I do know that some people will gatecrash.  The numbers from
conferences I've attended suggests that that number is very small,
and additional hassle needed to screen everyone is not worth it.

[3] it helps that I don't smoke and never bought alcohol at a
restaurant until I was 29, but I do understand the need to verify
age.  It also helps that I pay in cash or debit/credit card, so don't
need to show id at the stores for a check.

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