The voice of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano echoing in tunnels of the Washington, D.C. Metro system may make riders feel that they are living in a scene from Brave New World, but the recently announced bag searches have given civil liberties groups something more tangible to worry about.
Two groups have announced a petition drive aimed at heading off random bag searches, which they consider “security theater.”
The DC Bill of Rights Coalition and the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition are asking Metro riders to sign their online petition, which reads: “We the undersigned oppose random bag searches of metro passengers as unconstitutional, ineffective and misguided.”
A statement from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority regarding the searches says, “Customers who encounter a baggage checkpoint at a station entrance may choose not to enter the station if they would prefer not to submit their carry-ons for inspection.”
This causes Thomas Nephew, of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition, to consider the searches a non-serious attempt to secure the system. Nephew told The Daily Caller, “only bags with nothing in them will ever get swabbed and checked… the whole procedure is just ‘security theater’ — measures giving the appearance of security without any significant substance.”
Since a would-be terrorist could simply decline a bag inspection at one Metro station, then try their chances at the next, what effect would the random searches have?
Nephew worries that they could become “an all-purpose law enforcement check despite being pitched as counter-terrorism.” He notes that K-9 dogs used to detect explosive materials may also have been trained for drug detection.
Patrick Elder, co-founder of the DC Bill of Rights Coalition, was described in coverage by The Associated Press as concerned that random Metro bag searches would violate the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches.
The petition against bag searches has not garnered too much support as of yet. According to Nephew, only about 300 Metro riders have signed the the petition thus far, though he said he expects the number to reach at least 400 by tonight.