Papiere Bitte!



I will be taking a short business trip in a few days, and some time ago I made reservations with a Sheraton Hotel at my destination. Today I received via e-mail a confirmation notice from the hotel, along with a weather forecast and some boilerplate about the hotel’s facilities. Quickly scanning this message, I was struck by something in a section labeled “Your Privacy” that reads as follows:

Please note: For security purposes, you will be asked to provide a valid government or state-issued photo ID at check-in.

I cannot recall ever having been required to show official identification papers merely to register at a hotel — a credit card, yes, but not a government-issued photo ID. Though offended, I cannot say that I am surprised by this turn of events. I wonder whether some law or regulation now requires the hotels to check their guests’ official papers.

Anyone who has paid the least attention over the years has noticed that more and more businesses and government agencies have required that one show his official — that is, government-issued — identity papers in order to be served or admitted. Airlines, of course, have required such identification for many years, although I can remember a time when they did not do so — indeed, a time when one simply walked, with freinds and relatives if one wished, to the departure gate and boarded the airplane without any interception for security screening at all. Auto rental companies demanded an official driver’s license. Now, even hotels treat their customers as suspected terrorists.

Who’ll do so next — the dry cleaners, the grocery store, the bank, the gas station? Will the gestapo lurk outside my front gate to make sure that I identify myself properly before driving my automobile onto the highway? Will the church demand my papers before administering the Holy Communion?

Most Americans, of course, will take such new impositions in stride, just as they have accepted the outrageous treatment they must suffer at the airports. If you have nothing to hide . . . la, la, la. One who protests or complains will be viewed as paranoid or as a troublemaker.

The slope toward totalitariansim is slippery, indeed, but sometimes the slope is so gradual that one scarcely notices that one is sliding downward. Ask the ordinary Germans who slid down that slope after 1933; heed the voice of those who still recall, with a chill, the horrible sound of those dreaded words, “Papiere Bitte!”

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