ACLU: 'Deep concern' on Metro checks
[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?
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."
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