On The Flip Side
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 23:01
The Question: Random bag checks by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) were implemented by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in 2006. As of January, protesters have begun to take action, claiming that these checks are a violation of their constitutional rights. Does this added security measure violate the 4th Amendment right to protection against unreasonable search and seizure?
Security Above Convenience - Julie Orenstein
In the post-Sept. 11 world, heightened security in public spaces has become more and more a part of our everyday lives. We have gotten used to long lines at TSA airport checkpoints, metal detectors at the entrances of sports arenas, and even increased security in schools, particularly in light of recent events.
In each of these instances, we have come to accept time-consuming or inconvenient security measures as unfortunate, but necessary, elements of life. Yes, it might be a bother to have to open your bag for inspection or take off your shoes at the airport. But, in my opinion, I would rather take a few more minutes to comply with security guidelines then face a life-threatening act of violence.
Recently, a group of Bostonians has spoken out against random bag inspections at MBTA stations, saying it infringes upon our Fourth Amendment rights to protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Their claims, though, seem a little extreme.
The plan to impose random bag inspections was implemented by then-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in 2006 “as part of an overall layered strategy to deter and prevent a terrorist attack,” according to the MBTA’s website. The key element of the practice that prevents it from potentially violating the Fourth Amendment, in my view, is that the searches are done by “swabbing” the handles, zipper, or seam of a bag to look for explosive material. If dangerous materials are discovered, then the owner of the bag may be asked to open it for further inspection.
In 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York upheld a decision involving the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, holding that bag inspections do not violate individuals’ Constitutional rights, according to an MBTA press release. Unwarranted inspections must be based on “special need” and meant to protect the rights of individual riders, who receive general notice of the inspections that are conducted for a short duration of time and involving people selected with a predetermined cycle.
While random bag inspections might seem like an unjustifiable invasion of privacy to some, I maintain that the practice, especially when it embodies only “swabbing” of bags and not even opening them, is an acceptable form of security. Privacy and protection against unlawful search and seizure is one of the greatest safeguards our Constitution offers us, however in this case, a brief and relatively non-intrusive security scan is something we should all tolerate in exchange for a more secure city.
Searches Are Unnecessary - Maggie Powers
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizure, shall not be violated.” The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution is a right granted to all American citizens, yet I often take it for granted. In fact, I fail to consider it unless it is called to my immediate attention. The random bag inspections performed by the MBTA have done exactly that.
These random bag searches are a violation of our constitutional rights. Let me add a qualifier to this somewhat bold statement. By no means do I disagree with the ideology behind the bag searches; terrorism is a very real threat in the age we live in and absolutely anything that can effectively be done to combat it should be done. The random bag searches, however, do not fall into this category.
According to Law Practice Today in order to perform searches without a warrant “…the search must be reasonable in light of balancing factors including: the weight and immediacy of government interest; the nature of the privacy that will be compromised and the efficacy of the search in advancing the government’s interest.”
The last point is the one I hold contest with. How effective are these random searches? Are the searches achieving what the government wants? Have any terrorists actually been stopped? According to Mac Daniel, a Boston Globe staff writer, in the first two and a half months of random searching no weapons were found and no arrests were made. However, there were nearly two-dozen false alarms. These false positives were from “items such as asthma medication and hand cream.”
Frankly, knowing these facts will not make me feel any safer next time I ride the T. I would probably be annoyed if, with no particular cause or suspicion, I was stopped for a random search further delaying my trip on the already inefficient T. I would definitely be annoyed if their test came up positive, was further searched and questioned only to later find out that the test was a false alarm due to my favorite White Citrus hand cream.