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Posted at 11:10 AM ET, 12/21/2010

ACLU: 'Deep concern' on Metro checks

By Robert Thomson

[See transcript of chat about Metro's bag inspections.]

In my last posting on Metro's ill-conceived policy of randomly inspecting people's property, I noted that I'm not a lawyer, just a traveler. So I was interested to see that the American Civil Liberties Union -- the ranks of which include plenty of lawyers -- has sent a letter about the policy to the Metro Board chairman and interim general manager.

"We write to register our deep concern to such searches and the constraining effect they would have on long-cherished individual liberties of millions of innocent citizens, says the letter, sent Monday and signed by representatives of the ACLU from the District, Maryland and Virginia.

The letter was sent to Board Chairman Peter Benjamin and Interim General Manager Richard Sarles after Metro sprung the policy on riders but before the checkpoints were set up today at the Braddock Road and College Park stations.

"Invasive actions, such as those you have planned, must be carefully weighed against the burden placed on citizens who use the system. Random searches on our regional public transit systems, which accommodate millions of passengers annually, will whittle away the rights of those citizens while giving only the illusion of safety and none of its worth. When the illusion is measured against the invasion of privacy and intrusion into the daily lives of those that depend on the systems, the costs to individual liberty seem to far outweigh what deterring or preventive effect -- if any at all -- the searches may have on terrorism."

"Any program that permits the use of suspicionless searches must withstand the closest degree of scrutiny." See the full text of the letter.

Since Metro officials did not bother to submit the disruptive program to public scrutiny before imposing it, the ACLU letter asks a series of questions:

1) Are the machines you plan to use before searching carry-on items designed only to indicate the presence of explosives?
2) If so, how accurate are the machines?
3) Are the dogs you plan to use before searching carry-on items designed only to indicate the presence of explosives?
4) If so, how reliable are the dogs?
5) Will there be special training for those charged with carrying out these searches?
6) What about machine technology? Can we be certain contamination will not be a problem?
7) How do you plan to undertake the random selection of those subject to being searched?

See Metro's description of the inspections here.

The letter acknowledges that we're all concerned about the safety of the transit system, and invites Metro officials to do something they haven't:

"We join you in your objective to provide the public with a safer transit system. We would be delighted to meet with you to help create an effective plan that will make our transit system more secure without burdening the individual liberties of our citizens."

By Robert Thomson  | December 21, 2010; 11:10 AM ET
Categories:  Metro, Transportation Politics  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock  
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Next: Tough travel in Europe

Comments

8. Can we pet the dogs?

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | December 21, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

I hope the stuck-up ones who give you nasty looks if you dare talk are the ones who refuse to be searched and are turned away. They aren't from here anyway. :)

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | December 21, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Rabbits can smell bombs better than dogs. Why put German Shepherd out there when bunny rabbits eat less? It is because they can't get a cop to work with a bunny rabbit?

Posted by: blasmaic | December 21, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

blasmaic, you know how many people want to pet the dog? Imagine how many people will want to pet the bunny. That would never work. It would be the most inefficient, adorable, snorgly wittle mess ever.

Posted by: dkp01 | December 21, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Terrorist win again. They changed our daily routine and took a way more of our rights.

For all of you who would submit to this illegal search thank you for giving the terrorist another victory. May you all rot in hell as victims of a terrorist attack!

Posted by: sheepherder | December 21, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Can we have the bunny rabbits trained to attack the Metro station manager when he refuses to help the little old lady work the smartcard machine?

Posted by: mika_england | December 21, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

There's one issue even the ACLU has failed to address: the fact that if you refuse to undergo the search at a Metro station entrance, you may (and likely will) be subject to questioning. In essence, by asserting your constitutional right not to be subject to search without a warrant (or probable cause), you're now allowed to be detained for questioning without an ounce of probable cause. Never before has the assertion of one's constitutional rights been considered probable cause - until now.

Posted by: dfl1 | December 21, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

There's one issue even the ACLU has failed to address: the fact that if you refuse to undergo the search at a Metro station entrance, you may (and likely will) be subject to questioning. In essence, by asserting your constitutional right not to be subject to search without a warrant (or probable cause), you're now allowed to be detained for questioning without an ounce of probable cause. Never before has the assertion of one's constitutional rights been considered probable cause - until now.

Posted by: dfl1 | December 21, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Step 2: Complete.

First we listen to the sheep tell us "don't fly if you dont' want to get searched. Take a train or bus."

Now we get searched taking a train. We complain. They'll say, "well, just take the bus, I'm a patriot, I proudly strip down to my skivvies for my government!"

We take the bus. We will, inevitably, get searched. They'll say, "Don't like it? Walk then instead."

We'll walk. At random "checkpoints" we'll be stopped and frisked. We'll complain.

Eventually, we'll get fisted as soon as we walk out the door. However, 1 in 10 men won't complain.

Posted by: Please_Fix_VAs_Roads | December 21, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

The terrorist IS the bunny rabbit.

Posted by: dkp01 | December 21, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

So how many of you who oppose these searches also opposed the full body scans or patdowns that the TSA subjects air travelers to, as well?

Posted by: WashingtonDame | December 21, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

ACLU: "...giving only the illusion of safety and none of its worth."

Illusion or not, the appearance of safety and the reduction of fear is a valid and substantive benefit. It's a shame that ACLU harps about intangible benefits like rights and liberty but cannot even see the sizable value of reduced popular fear.

Posted by: IncredulousAsEver | December 21, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Metro riders were afraid that Metro would kill them. Now Metro's ineffecitve security toys make them afraid of terrorists.

Double the fear, double the fun.

Keep Fear Alive.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | December 21, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Metro riders were afraid that Metro would kill them. Now Metro's ineffecitve security toys make them afraid of terrorists.

Double the fear, double the fun.

Keep Fear Alive.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | December 21, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

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