November 08, 2001 11:00 pm

Step up to the airline ticket counter, flash your drivers license and youre set. After a couple more checkpoints, youre on the way. You are who you say you are, and youre ready to board the airplane.

But is everyone who shows a drivers license at an airport exactly who he says he is? The terrorist attacks on airliners on Sept. 11 shoots holes in the theory that we can trust licenses as a sure-fire way of identifying someone.

Many of the 19 hijackers on board the four flights had aliases, and some had multiple passports. An estimated 13 of them had drivers licenses or picture IDs from states like Florida or Virginia.

Wouldnt it have been wonderful if some of the terrorists could have been identified by an authentic ID, and that information could have been used to foil one or more of the hijackings?

Congress would do well to establish a foolproof, national ID program that clearly identifies the holder, whether they be U.S. citizens or an alien. A unique biomedical marker as well as the photo would help ensure the passenger is whom he says he is.

We can hear the complaints of some that big brother is watching you with a national ID. But arent Americans identified by a nationwide tracking system already: our Social Security numbers? We dont flash our Social Security cards at airports. We show our drivers licenses, which could show bogus information depending on how foolproof a states system is in identifying the holder.

Congress should create a national ID card for everyone. Accompanying legislation could ensure that ID cards do not open the floodgates for all kinds of personal and credit information to be disclosed about the person. But security at airports, at the White House and in other strategic locations must be strengthened. A national, uniform ID program would move us in the right direction.


It seemed like an innocent enough guest column that appeared on Tuesdays opinion page.

Michael Wiens of La Grande expressed his dislike for Mallard Fillmore, a politically conservative cartoon that appears every day in the lower right-hand corner of the comics page. He called for The Observer to retire Mallard, and asked readers to cast their vote by phoning, faxing, e-mailing or snail-mailing The Observer. It is time for a change, he concluded.

Observer readers followed Wiens advice and contacted the newspaper. But the outcome is probably not exactly what he had in mind. By Thursday afternoon, readers by a 15-2 margin had told The Observer in no uncertain terms that they do not want the duck tossed into a pot of hot water.

Not since the tragic events of two months ago has the paper seen such a dramatic response by its readers. You can sample some of their comments in letters to the editor on todays page.