But in one area, a new law wil force us to divulge more: On Saturday, Aug. 15, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will require every American to include their birth date and gender in their passenger information if they want to book a seat on a domestic aircraft. The TSA also wants every person's I.D. to precisely match the name with which they book their tickets.
Although the official start date is Aug. 15, some airlines will get on board in the fall. But the change is coming.
The TSA says that the added personal details must be given during the booking process, after which they will be used to check computer records of suspicious passengers. Passengers shouldn't have to recite their true birth dates at the TSA's airport checkpoints, which should be good news for Joan Rivers.
It's part of the TSA's new Secure Flight initiative, which is setting up rules to allow government inspectors tighter control of the people who are permitted to fly. The TSA says that the additional information will help its clerks prevent mismatches that sometimes wind up detaining innocent passengers for hours on end.
In essence, then, the government is telling us that the job it has been doing isn't good enough, and now it needs to throw more regulations at us to do better. It's adding more bureaucracy as a stated means of reducing bureaucracy.
Of course, the paperwork and strain of complying with the new rules will end up shifting more of the burden to the average Joe and away from the average TSA paper-pusher.
Soon after Saturday, if you're divorced or have recently married, you'll have to fly under your old name until you get around to changing the name on your identification -- and naturally, you'll probably have to pay to do that.
That's annoying enough, but having to fork over personal information to the airlines is disquieting for reasons of privacy. If we can't trust airlines to keep track of our checked baggage or to tell us the honest reason for a four-hour delay, I don't know what makes them think we can trust them with one more piece of vital personal information that makes stealing our personal savings possible.
And then there will be inevitably be the people who loudly protest the advance of the "police state." That may be exaggerating things, but I must confess some discomfort whenever any government creates a mysterious list of suspicious people.
American government is, by definition, political, and once you enable a system of watch lists, the more powerful it can grow. I worry about the day when just writing something like that would land me on a list of suspicious persons.
Whatever we think, though, it doesn't matter. It's a federal law, and so it's a done deal.
News from the Air
It's part of the TSA's new Secure Flight initiative, which is setting up rules to allow government inspectors tighter control of the people who are permitted to fly. For more travel related stories, browse through this gallery.
David McNew, Getty Images
David McNew, Getty Images