Friday Question of the Day: Reader Request

07.24.08, originally uploaded by Atomic Citrocity.

Well, a number of folks have been waiting all week for this question. On Monday we learned that metro will begin randomly searching bags. The Washington Post has a full article here. They say:

“Metro officials yesterday announced plans to immediately begin random searches of backpacks, purses and other bags in a move they say will protect riders and also guard their privacy and minimize delays.

The program is modeled after one begun three years ago in New York that has withstood legal challenges. However, experts said it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of such searches, beyond assuring the public that police are being vigilant. New York officials declined to say what they have found in their searches; none of the other transit systems conducting random searches have found any explosives, officials said.

Metro officials said the program was not in response to a specific threat but prompted by increased security concerns before next week’s election and the inauguration as well as by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and later bombings of commuter trains in Madrid, London and elsewhere.”

So do you believe this is a good security measure or a violation of your privacy? For those who feel it is a violation of your privacy will you refuse a search?

24 Comment

  • I’d refuse a search. Metro is public transportation. When will I be searched in order to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue on my way to work? What about a block away? Two blocks? Will I have to surrender to a search to walk out my front door?

  • I think it’s a violation of my privacy, a poor security measure, and a waste of resources. But judging by what I’ve done in the past, I’m sure that if an officer asks to search me, I will probably consent. I know that the thing to do is to politely say no and leave the station, but I am not likely to engage in that kind of protest.

    But really, it’s ridiculous. I don’t want to be callous, but 9/11 was seven years ago, the train bombing in Madrid was in 2004, the tube bombing in London was in 2005. The election ends next week, the inauguration is one day in January. So NOW Metro has decided that random, permanent searches are the way to go? It is ridiculous, just like airline security is ridiculous. But, like a sheep, I shuffle through those lines and take off my shoes and do all that stupid pointless stuff. I’m obviously part of the problem.

    And, let’s just pretend that this kind of random searching (instead of, frankly, profiling) does actually work. Why is a Metro train more of an attractive target than the #70 or the #42 or any other well-used bus line? Metro to bus riders: Drop dead.

    If they really want to make people feel safer in the Metro, how about an initiative to stop purse-snatchings and other crimes that are about a million times more common than a terrorist attack?

  • Okay, I spoke too soon — the searches are not permanent (in the sense of every station, every day) and they could take place at bus stations too. Yippee.

    I don’t know how many people have posted here about the dangerious and scary things that have happened to them around the Petworth station. Muggings, beatings, etc. To think that this is a considered to be a better use of resources than ensuring someone can walk down the street listening to their iPod without being mugged…It’s just aggravating.

  • Bag search, eh? I guess I’ll be force to carry my “special items” on my person. Okay, go ahead, search away….

  • But yet we see people eating and smoking on outside platforms all the time (Fort Totten and New York). It appears we don’t have man power to enforce those basic rules.

  • How many people ride Metro and what tiny fraction percent get randomly searched? Law of averages says that it is way, way more likely that someone carrying something they shouldn’t is never going to remotely come close to being searched. So what is the real good of this? This is all PR. It’s all about making Metro rides feel like they are being protected. It isn’t about really protecting riders.

    The 1983 bombing of the barracks in Beirut took some of the shine off the American feeling of invincible. 9/11 did that even more. The upgrade of airport security while necessary (because it truly was a joke before) was a move to not only improve security that was necessary it was also a PR move to make the public feel better about flying after a horrible, horrible event. While these new random searches on Metro are meant to be proactive (as opposed to reactive measures instituted by TSA after each new event – taking off shoes, size restrictions on liquids after the shoe bomber) they will only ever be so helpful. I guess I wish their proactive policies leaned more in the direction of protecting rider against the more likely crimes to occur – though maybe they are hoping they can cover both types.

    I just don’t like the false sell from Metro any more than I would from obsequious sales personnel and used car salesmen.

  • This is what gets me: “Only those items capable of concealing explosives will be searched. However, if during the course of a search contraband is discovered, the contraband will be seized and the possessor of the contraband will be subject to prosecution. Whether a particular item is contraband may depend on the nature of the item, its intended use, and the law of the relevant jurisdiction. Metro?s Security Inspection Program does not alter federal, state or local legislation. If you are unsure of whether a particular item is contraband, you should seek legal advice.”

    –if we can’t determine what is not allowed, how can we leave those items at home. I see a ‘prohibited items list’ in our near future…liquids, gels, aerosols in 3 oz containers or less perhaps?

  • if you are going to complain about this, you should also complain about being searched every time you get on an airplane

  • I do, NateG. But at least EVERYONE is searched who gets on an airplane. At least I’m not worried about being mugged or assaulted on an airplane, which I think is the bigger safety issue with the Metro.

    Say I’m a terrorist bent on doing bad things in the Petworth Metro. I walk in and I see a search is underway. What’s to stop me from just turning around and strolling down to Columbia Heights or Gallery Place?

    It’s just for show. We have a Metro system that can’t even keep all the escalators working and this is what they want to spend money on. If we stipulate that we all feel pretty safe already from mad bombers, can they at least work on the escalators?

  • Its a press release, nothing more. Metro still doesn’t have a PA system in most stations, has only 500 officers, and gangs of kids run rampant as they see fit. Do you really think Metro is thus interested in security? They don’t have the necessary funds for true security, or the clout to get them, and thus they release pieces of paper.

  • I don’t care. Search my bag, you won’t find anything.

  • christina/ kevin…may as well get rid of searches at the airport too since that invades your privacy.

  • I think it’s the “random” part that offends people here, guys. And you don’t go to the airport every day. At least, that’s what bothers me. Public transportation is not the same as air travel, in my book.

    But, I suspect they’re just gearing up for the inauguration, with a little more fear than usual about crazies out there willing to do something violent. And when I lived in NYC (where the ACLU lost their battle on this, btw), one of the only places I ever saw a bag check station was in Astor Place, and they never once checked my bag.

    You don’t have to consent to a search, but if you refuse, you have to leave the station, FWIW.

  • What’s in my bag- Gym shorts, an IPod, and because the Red Line breaks down more
    than the main character in Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”, a big a– book.

  • I see what you are saying Christina… but i disagree that it has to be an “all or nothing” approach. i do think that occasional, RANDOM, searches can provide a small amount of security with only minor inconvenience. obviously we cant put metal detectors at the entrance to every metro stop. lets face it… this is a safety issue. remember the “05 London subway bombings… Madrid?

  • This is not a promotion or a damnation of the policy, I am genuinly curious; What is the legal precedent is for this type of police action? It certainly doesn’t seem to fit within the parameters of the 4th amendment, and it’s a stretch for Michigan v. Sitz given the limitations of Brown v. Texas test for uniform minimally intrusive seizure… I will not be carrying any explosive materials any time soon but gettin’ the pat-down in front of my visiting parents over some rolling papers would be less than ideal.

  • It’s stupid, will have little effect, and it’s a violation of privacy. If I ever get asked to be searched, i’ll just take a short walk down to the CH metro and get on there. It’s disturbing how willing people are to give up basic rights like being able to go out in public without being searched. How many explosives are they going to find compared to the amount of nonviolent drug offenders they will throw in jail?

  • Really guys – who cares. I am one of the people who voted for “who cares”. Let them search your bags – what are they going to find – tampons and condoms – big deal.

  • It matters because its taking resources- money, manpower, and time that could be better allocated. If someone did intend harm would they not refuse the search leave the station and try at a later date or use a different person?

  • oliveskinnednica, I wouldn’t mind replacing the current searches done at airports with something that I thought would actually enhance security as opposed to just making everyone FEEL better. That’s really the point I’m trying to make: if you’re going to take this kind of step, do it right. Don’t just do something for show. The reason I’ll probably go along with it is just like Taylor said — who cares? But I’m not fooling myself that Metro is somehow safer, or that this is not a privacy invasion for little purpose.

    NateG, I mentioned those very bombings in my first post. I would like to know why something that happened in 2005 is now causing changes in Washington D.C. in 2008. I’d also like someone from Metro to explain to me more clearly how these periodic random security sweeps could ward off a London/Madrid style attack, when the very easiest thing to do is to just go to another station if you’ve got dynamite strapped to your chest and you can’t get on at Petworth.

    Erica, when I was in New York and staying in Staten Island, I was sniffed over by a bomb dog every time I got on the ferry.

    The Atlantic just had a story in about “security theater.” This definitely strikes me as security theater. We are assuming that most terrorists are very, very stupid. It strikes me that successful terrorists (like the 9/11 bombers, as opposed to a guy trying to set his shoes on fire) are not stupid. It’s a good read, for people who think that current airport security is really great.

    The problem is that we are trying to balance everyone’s right to privacy (noble goal) with maintaining safety (another noble goal) and we’re coming up with something that really does neither.

  • well said, Christina

  • The first rule of bureaucracy and politics is “never look like you’re doing nothing.” The corollary is “doing something for show is always better than doing nothing.”

    The authorities KNOW that this won’t do diddly squat to prevent terrorism. They also know that most people will be happy to see “something” being done to “keep them safe.” It’s a pure win for those in charge.

    What is truly odious and infuriating is that government officials are pulling this no-value PR stunt at the very real cost of eroding our civil liberties. Every new search becomes “the new normal”, and is used to justified more/expanded searches a few years down the road.

    The sad fact is that no amount of searching will accomplish the stated goal of preventing terrorist attacks. It will, at best, move the attack to a different location. Can’t get a bomb on the plane? A suicide bomb in the long Disneyworld-style airport security line is just as good. Or a movie theater. Or a shopping mall. Or a crowded sidewalk.

    So, we’ve started down the road of giving up what makes America special — our freedoms — in a clearly futile effort to gain more security. This is just plain wrong.

    So when the officers ask if they can search me, my answer will always be a polite “no, officer, I do not consent to any searches.” I can’t end this policy by myself, but I can make it clear that I think it’s ineffective and un-American.

  • DC cops are not highly educated individuals. you think this will be random? nuh uh. they’ll see folks that they’re ‘interested’ in, and say, “hey, what’s in your bag? what does a girl like you keep in your purse?”

    unless of course they do racial/cultural profiling….

  • oh man you are so wrong. the bag searchers are trained to spot people acting suspiciously. they are educated and they are experts and they are well trained.

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