Random ID checks are next
June 8, 2004 7:21 AM   Subscribe

Unreasonable Search and Seizure? Boston's MBTA to begin randomly searching passenger bags and packages next month on subway and commuter trains. Last month they started playing frequent Big Brother-type announcements as part of their See Something? Say Something(pdf) - Transit Watch program. I'm either reminded of "Loose Lips, Sink Ships" or Starship Troopers' "Do you want to know more?".
posted by FreezBoy (28 comments total)
 
Ah, the MBTA, that paragon of municipal efficiency. BadTransit.com is good at documenting its foibles.
posted by PrinceValium at 7:41 AM on June 8, 2004


Although the Supreme Court has not yet specifically applied the special needs doctrine to airport searches, in dicta it has repeatedly referred to airport security as the ideal setting for the use of this doctrine.[16]

Under all theories, however, courts continue to demand that the searches permitted under these theories adhere to the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment.[17] The Supreme Court has held that a search may satisfy the reasonableness requirement if, after balancing the equities, the government’s need to conduct the search outweighs the intrusion on the individual’s rights and privacy.[18] Thus, the reasonableness of airport searches must be determined by weighing the exigencies of national security (including the level of individualized suspicion aroused by the passenger) against the passenger’s civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.
- America’s Anti-hijacking Campaign -- Will It Conform to Our Constitution?

And how is advising commuters to keep an eye out, trust their instincts, and report suspicious activities or abandoned bags and packages Big-Brotherish? Is it Big-Brotherish to remind the public to act like responsible adults and help protect themselves and their fellow citizens? How do you secure a practically public place as large as the MTBA without the help of the average citizen? Hmm, well, you could maybe canvas the area with surveillance cameras and microphones and thousands of security personnel. Which is more Big-Brotherish?
posted by techgnollogic at 7:45 AM on June 8, 2004


I take the Green Line every morning and this doesn't bother me one bit. Let them peek. Who cares? The fact is there's a pretty huge political event that's going to happen next month and the trains will be chock full of giblets ripe for a bombing. I know something like this wont prevent that from happening, but it can't hurt.

I think I may start carrying a Costco-sized tub of Vaseline and a couple of pairs of salad tongs in my bag, just to fuck with 'em.

Then again, I'm a white male so these
"random" searches probably wont affect me any.
posted by bondcliff at 7:47 AM on June 8, 2004


Just this morning on the NYC subway a guy (I hate to add this, but a guy of arabic descent), about 20, left a large platic bag on the subway when he got off at 34th. I called to him that he had left his bag and he looked at me and ignored me. I picked up the bag (which was *heavy* -- about 10 pounds) and gave it to him. It was only then that I realized that there were a bunch of other people in the car yelling at him to take the bag.

It was weird. He obviously wanted to leave it on the train and it seemed too heavy to be trash. The world is every more confusing.
posted by n9 at 7:50 AM on June 8, 2004


When they came for the commuters, I said nothing, for I had a car.
posted by Capn at 8:02 AM on June 8, 2004


techgnollogic - they are both Big-Brotherish. Besides, there are already surveillance cameras and security personnel in the MBTA system. The constant announcements are generating fear around a threat that doesn't exist.

bondlciff, and all - What is the line between what steps are ok for the government to use and what is not ok?
posted by FreezBoy at 8:08 AM on June 8, 2004


I honestly don't know, FreezBoy, but I have a feeling I'll know it when I see it. I also have a feeling I'll know when it's heading in that direction. I don't believe randomly peeking into a few bags a month before the DNC, while there is a controversial war going on, while there are people in this world (and in this country) who might want to set off a bomb on a train and kill a bunch of people, is the beginning of any sort of slippery slope.
posted by bondcliff at 8:15 AM on June 8, 2004


As long as they don't start seizing the commuters.

"and did he ever return, no, he never returned, and his fate is still unlearned. He may ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston he's the man who never returned."

Seriously, though, the security measures might be an inconvenience, but this doesn't sound overtly invasive yet. I would much rather have something like random searches on mass transit than, say, a national ID card. The former has far more potential of catching something relative to the later's potential for abuse.
posted by weston at 8:19 AM on June 8, 2004


n9 - you didn't catch the license plate # ?
posted by troutfishing at 8:23 AM on June 8, 2004


With my wife we had the unfortunate luck of being few blocks away in Bali when the night club bombs went off and we helped some of the victims at our hotel.

She mentioned the new announcements on T few weeks ago (she take blue and green line daily) and really didn't know which way to react -- is it fear-mongering or just common sense alertness.

Myself I tend to tolerate these things (airport security, dumb questions from immigration officials, posters on T) better than before as long as they really don't inconvenience me too much.

But on the other hand I think that the W administration wants to make life hell for everyone in Boston during the DNC.
posted by zeikka at 8:29 AM on June 8, 2004


True Red Line story:

Drunk frattish (Tufts, maybe?) guy is standing near one of the "See Something, Say Something" signs. He turns to look at an attractive woman next to him, taps her on the shoulder, then points to the sign.

"They say I gotta say something when I see something," he says, swaying slightly, "I a see that you're the hottest girl on this train. Wanna go for a drink?"

I didn't catch her reply, but she got off, alone, at the next stop.

So remember, MBTA Riders, SAFETY IS PICKUP LINES.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:43 AM on June 8, 2004


Telling people to be prepared because there are thousands upon thousands of psychotic murderous terrorists in this world looking for their next opportunity to kill Americans IS NOT "FEAR-MONGERING." It's the fucking TRUTH. How can you people argue that Bush's "irresponsible" cowboy foreign policies are stimulating and feeding the recruiting programs of Islamist terrorist organizations worldwide, AND that any suggestion that we need to watch out for said fucking terrorists and maybe check a few bags on some trains in Boston, 3-months after Islamist Terrorists killed over 100 people on trains in Madrid, is ORWELLIAN PSY-OP MIND-CONTROL FEAR-MONGERING?
posted by techgnollogic at 8:47 AM on June 8, 2004


what if they find other stuff, not bombs, in your bag? What if you have some pot on you? If this is permanent (which it says it is), then in a few years, how do we know it won't primarily be used to catch people with a spliff in their pocket?

No, I don't like this. And I don't think it will have much increase on safety, just an increase in fear. If a terrorist wants to put a bomb on a train, it is only going to take them a couple minutes - what are the chances, reallly, that in those couple of minutes, as they board a train with a backpack and slip out the door at the next stop without it, that they will get stopped and searched? To make this an effective policy, they would have to put some kind of scanner by the turnstile, as they do in airplanes.

some years ago, riding a greyhound with a friend, a bunch of narcotics officers came on board and starting asking to look in everyone's luggage. This freaked me out, not because my friend had some pot, as we knew our rights, but because no one else on the bus seemed to think it was creepy. Now it seems those rights aren't guaranteed after all, and no one around here seems to find that worrying either. I dunno. I don't want to overreact, but this really doesn't sit right with me.
posted by mdn at 8:57 AM on June 8, 2004


They've already made airports into a nightmare, now they're going to fug up the subway? I don't want to live in a world were a recorded warning message is played over and over. I don't want to be stopped and searched for no reason. This crap does not make us safer, it makes us more paranoid, more focused on fear, less focused on enjoying and living our lives in a normal way.

And yes, it IS a slippery slope.
posted by Outlawyr at 9:16 AM on June 8, 2004


How can you people argue that Bush's "irresponsible" cowboy foreign policies are stimulating ... Islamist terrorist organizations worldwide, AND that any suggestion that we need to watch out for said fucking terrorists and maybe check a few bags on some trains in Boston, 3-months after Islamist Terrorists killed over 100 people on trains in Madrid, is ORWELLIAN PSY-OP MIND-CONTROL FEAR-MONGERING?

Because anyone organized enough to shred a commuter train with multiple bombs isn't dumb enough to get caught like that. All this does is send an empty "see? We're proactive!" message while some fat idiot with a "Perfect Storm" accent paws through my stuff and I miss my trolley.

I have a pair of soiled running socks sitting in a sealed ziploc in the basement as we speak. Those go out of the baggie and onto the top of my backpack whenever I'm on the T this summer.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:18 AM on June 8, 2004


I know something like this wont prevent that from happening, but it can't hurt.

I think this is wrong, it can hurt. That police officer could be doing something that would actually aid security instead of this mostly useless search. And it adds to the erosion of civil rights.

I'm with mdn. I think is going to much more useful tool for the war on some drugs than the war against a conceptual perjorative.

This kind of action is very much like the Canadian gun registry. An expensive feel good measure that contributes very little to security.
posted by Mitheral at 10:13 AM on June 8, 2004


Interesting post. I fall on the side of the government being incompetent rather than evil. Our safety is not something that any government can ensure, and we will not collectively collapse if we are attacked. I don't think the fear-mongering is by design, I think it's a weak response to a reality that cannot be controlled, and individuals in the government want a public face on their efforts to make us safer. The problem is, no method is fool-proof, so what do you do after an attack? Keep ratcheting things up?

Being strong is more important then being scared, because you cannot prevent everything from happening. I think for every $ they spend on these campaigns, they sould spend $0.50 on making sure people don't panic if something does go down.

I do think the comparison to "loose lips sink ships" is off though, because that was actually incredibly important, especially in the Pacific where information leaked about submarines resulted in perhaps thousands of deaths. The military is the one place where "Big Brother" is not just appropriate, but necessary.
posted by chaz at 10:22 AM on June 8, 2004


But on the other hand I think that the W administration wants to make life hell for everyone in Boston during the DNC.

"Wow man, security is really tight!"

"Yeah, I heard John Edwards got strip searched at the car rental pavillion."

"Aw, the hell with it, I'm joining the Republican Party!"

Seriously, although I don't have a problem with "If you see something weird, for pity sake mention it!" I don't even have a problem with "please step through this nice, non-invasive metal detector along with everyone else, anonymous ticketholder." However, I have a big problem with this pseudo-random half-assed search nonsense. We have no assurances it won't work the same silly way at the airport. You can't take a pointy nail file, but knitting needles are okay? Take off your shoes to get them scanned unless you have big clunky athletic shoes like Richard Reid had? And I'm not even addressing obvious abuses of authority. Don't tell me it obviously prevents terrorism because there have been no attacks. That could just as easily be the new terrorist resistant paint on airplanes.

Just another false sense of security system.
posted by ilsa at 10:25 AM on June 8, 2004


You support your argument that the government is "fearmongering" and blowing the threat out of proportion by claiming that the terrorists are so overwhelmingly sophisticated that keeping an eye out for suspicious activity cannot stop them?

You support your argument that the government is *STIRRING UP IRRATIONAL FEAR* by arguing that the government is *SENDING AN EMPTY MESSAGE TO PROVIDE A FALSE "EVERYTHING IS OK" SENSE OF SECURITY*?
posted by techgnollogic at 10:27 AM on June 8, 2004


Well, if transit officials are going to search passengers and breach the Fourth Amendment, then I hope passengers will do the same to the transit officials. I want to see passengers running around the streetcars, seizing walkie-talkies and shouting "Boo yah! Ten four, good buddy!" into the ears of some hapless dispatcher.

That should stop the policy in weeks.
posted by ed at 10:34 AM on June 8, 2004


mdn (and mitheral) are right. (techgnollogic is wrong (though i'm too lazy to write it out).)

"random" searchs (i.e. of black/hispanic men who look like they're in gangs) is all about the "war on drugs." in san francisco, the drug trade absolutely *depends* on the BART (bay-wide mass transit) system. now that BART extends further down the peninsula, cops are noticing a lot more drug activity and new dealers in the areas with new transit service.

however ... residents here are "outraged" at any attempts to crack down on their god-given right to use illegal drugs!

i'd love to see them try random searches here. i'd also love to see a mass protest shut down the city, so whatever.

on preview: regarding fucking with inspectors, i'd heard that people with vaporizers were leaving traces of used marijuana all over BART to confuse the dogs. dunno if it's true.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:46 AM on June 8, 2004


"I take the Green Line every morning and this doesn't bother me one bit."
the Green Monster? every morning? my heart goes out to you, really.
but at this point, clearly, _nothing_ can bother you. given your hellish training, you're like the Special Forces of the commuting community.

"I have a pair of soiled running socks sitting in a sealed ziploc in the basement as we speak. Those go out of the baggie and onto the top of my backpack whenever I'm on the T this summer."

chemical weapon!

this thread makes me think of: 'you don't have to worry, if you don't have nothing to hide'

and technollogic, you may want to cut the ALL CAPS crap. it makes you sound like FreedomParamus, only not as funny
posted by matteo at 10:58 AM on June 8, 2004


Hey, techgnollogic, you're beginning to sound like a PARANOID SCHIZOPHRENIC!
posted by five fresh fish at 11:06 AM on June 8, 2004


A couple of things, though:

1) In a sealed black box with a blinky LED, place chicken skin and fat. Allow it to mellow in a warm environment. Place in briefcase or backpack. Let them search it.

2) Why are terrorists assumed to be incompetent idiots? Searching is so pointless it stuns me that anyone could think it's worth doing. I'm damn sure I could figure out how to pack wicked amounts of high explosives into a briefcase in such a way that no subway inspector would ever locate it.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:17 AM on June 8, 2004


If you're outraged about this, say something.
posted by bshort at 12:24 PM on June 8, 2004


you rock bshort.
posted by goneill at 2:33 PM on June 8, 2004


Why are terrorists assumed to be incompetent idiots?

Probably a carry over from people thinking all criminals are dumb as a stick. 'Cause those are the guys profiled on COPS. Of course we rarely see the mastermind type of criminal.
posted by Mitheral at 4:01 PM on June 8, 2004


Mind that parcel!

Don't suspect a friend, report him!
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:04 PM on June 8, 2004


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