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July 21, 2005

Hysterical infringements in the NYC subway

The New York Times reports that New York City police officers will begin random searches of passengers' bags.

Random searches are totally unacceptable. If these searches are truly random, they are unlikely to detect, much less deter, suicide bombers. How many million riders are there on the MTA on any given weekday? How many transit cops would have to be diverted from more pressing duties to search the bags of random subway riders? What happens when we remember that many suicide bombers strap explosives to their bodies? Maybe the next step will be random frisks or even random strip searches.

Do we really think that these searches will be random? Mayor Bloomberg insists that the police will make every effort to avoid racial profiling. I'm willing to take him at his word as far as official policy is concerned, but are we really so naive as to think that these "random" searches won't be regularly deployed in the service of individual prejudice and expediency?

"The police can and should be aggressively investigating anyone they suspect is trying to bring explosives into the subway," said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director at the New York Civil Liberties Union. "However, random police searches of people without any suspicion of wrongdoing are contrary to our most basic constitutional values. This is a very troubling announcement."

This is not a serious counter-terrorism effort. This is a public relations move by Mayor Bloomberg and the MTA. They want to convince the public that they're doing something to prevent terrorism on the subways. Random searches are much more telegenic than long term plans to safeguard the subway's underwater tunnels.

It might also be a good idea to increase the number of K-9 officers and explosive-sniffing dogs, but that would cost money. Authorizing the regular transit cops to search passengers at will is basically free--but you get what you pay for.

As a New York City subway rider, I'm outraged that the City intends to waste resources on such an intrusive PR stunt.


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My thoughts exactly.

You are quite correct in stating that this will have no useful effect, but not the reason.

The purpose is not PR, but rather the continuing effacement of personal liberty and thought. To create a society of marching morons who react in a controlled manner to each dictum without question.

Every attack is greeted with "You must give up your liberties to be safe". Never a rationale, just surrender your rights.

I think that plan came from the same dossier as the plan to put soldiers with machine guns in airports after September 11.

Just in case there was a sudden Taliban invasion launched from the pickup lane.

My question is, is this even legal? Is the idea supposed to be that you agree to comply with the random searches by purchasing your subway pass? What if I refuse to be searched? And finally, how much difference is there between "show us what's in your bag" and "show us your papers?"

Whatever you do, don't be seen eating a french fry.

It was either this or invade Luton.

Outrageous. Completely and utterly outrageous.

I just wish I had invested in placebo security in 2000.

I agree, its completely outrageous. But this sort of ratcheting up on civil liberties has been taking place for over 20 years, even through the Clinton years.

Fingerprints for drivers licenses, more checkpoints, talk of national ID cards, DNA, you name it. Its not a republican issue, its a government issue. They will keep selling these ideas to us under the guise of security. But, like you say, it doesnt make us any safer. It only gives them more control over us. It must be stopped. If we people would just wake the hell up and realize its happening.

I can only imagine how things will be in 10 years.

There is conflict between these two things:

(1) Authorizing the regular transit cops to search passengers at will is basically free--but you get what you pay for.

(2) As a New York City subway rider, I'm outraged that the City intends to waste money on such an intrusive PR stunt.

None of this has anything to do with terrorism or safety in the US or elsewhere. 9/11 is only tangentially related to terror. Bush agrees for the wrong reason: "I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care." The right reason is that Islamic terrorism has two roots, border wars, like Palestine and Chechnya and Kashmir, and the more interesting fight against modernism that bin Laden represents. (Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) secularly, and Eric Rudolph (the abortion clinic and Atlanta Olympics bomber) religiously, represent the perverted echo of anti-modernism in the West; yet, there are more mainstream versions of the Romantic reaction to Enlightenment hegemony, more in church, but also in academia, but it is a lost cause here).

Russia, for their recent sins, should cede a small territory to the Chechens for a nation, Paksistan will have to accept a token at most from India, and Palestine is fait accompli. Draw the border, have the ritual bloodletting, and let's have peace.

The key to the anti-modernism that bin Laden represents is polygamy, and the subjugation of women it represents. The Christian Bible approves of this just as the Koran does, and we got (sorry Amanda, I mean are getting) over this, so will they. But war is not the answer. The bin Laden's of the world are so angry because we are winning. It seems inevitable even to them. MTV and Nike are seducing their teens, and they see they can't stop it. 9/11 was utter desperation. This is a war for the minds of the children of bin Laden: will the daughters be the equal of the sons? War scares the Muslim children and makes them hate the West and what it represents. MTV and Nike brainwash them to the cultural relativism that rules the West, in which women and people of other religions are full citizens. Peace is our ally.

But there is no strategic threat to us. The average lifespan in the US rose from 2000 to 2001. The murder rate went up less than 25% in 2001 including the 9/11 murders. What are people scared of? Land of the brave, my ass. Hell, we kill far more of ourselves every year than that. And would 9/11 even have happened if Bush were protecting us from al Qaeda instead of embryonic stem cell research August 2001? He was warned by his advisors of a threat from both.

Bush has fearmongered us into war and his own re-election. Change the subject, there is nothing to see hear. There is nothing to fear here. No need to duck and cover. No need for duct tape. No need for airport searches. No need for Guantanamo. No need for the Iraq war. No need for the Afghanistan war (OK, at least Bush got some killer 'ghani heroin back into production). No need for the Patriot Act. No need to turn off your cellphones in the tunnels. No need to turn off you cellphones in the air. No need for unwarranted searches in the subways, the biways, or the highways. (What does our strict constitutional constructionist nominee John Roberts think of the 4th Amendment?)

If you are afraid, you are part of the problem.

What will the subway cops actually do? Random searches will be very unlikely to catch or deter anybody, as others have said. The police know this. They also know that profile based searches are politically unacceptable. So, the subway-riding public gets the worst of both worlds: The police will do profile based searches. The police will also do "affirmative action" searches so as to "equalize" adverse treatment.

David, you're right--I should have said "resources" instead of money in the last sentence. I'm going to change that.

so now any terrorists in the subway will carry whatever they're trying to hide in a cellophane-wrapped bunch of flowers or a tray of pretty fruit slices, because they know good and well that no-one is going to piss off the businesses who order that kind of stuff.

This is definitely one of Bloomberg's brainstorms.

Bruce Schneier refers to this sort of thing as "security theater." It'd be funny if it wasn't such an obvious invasion of privacy. Schneier's newsletter is a must-read for anyone interested in security issues and public policy. No bullshit, thoughtful, well reasoned, and to the point.

I was riding the subway home after midnight, and they announced that the "random" searches were already in effect.

If it's ok for the airport, why not for the trains?

Totally agree Lindsay. I really liked the Mayor of London when I heard him say yesterday, "look, the only way we could stop these is to have metal detectors in Tube stops, something that would add 30 minutes to peoples rides even if we had the physical space to add these machines, which we don't. so until some new technology comes along, more security is not the answer."

Thank you so much for your insightful post!

Subway searches are unconsitutional!


"If it's ok for the airport, why not for the trains? "

From an economic standpoint, yes. The potential benefit of the search is much greater, because the potential harm on a plane is much greater. Also, the search itself is a much smaller percentage of the cost of a plane trip.

From a rights point of view, it isn't as clear, but there is a difference. Compromises must be made as rights collide. Searches of jet passengers have less impact on daily lives, and secure more "domestic tranquility" than subway searches.

It's scary that one of the things being promoted as a *good thing* is that the searches are 'random' - as if being secure in your person and posessions is irrelevant as long as you're harassed the same as everyone else. It's odd that London is acting in a much more measured way than New York.

They talked about doing random searches in the Boston subway system last year; I haven't heard much about it since, which makes me suspect they've quietly dropped any actual activity. Lots of folks were positively hoping to be stopped so they could refuse to be searched and file suit subsequently. Also, it became quickly apparent that the transit police hadn't thought through the implications of their ideas at all.

Victor: They did them during the convention, have currently stopped, but said recently that they were considering resuming.

The term Random is used to get overly hyped civil libertarian liberals off the police's back. They will be profiling - no, don't get your panties in a bunch. Not by race or gender, but whoever is carrying a bag that could conceal a bomb.

This is deeply stupid. Anyone posting here could immediately think of several ways to bypass such a pathetic attempt at security:

* Wait to enter at a station where no searches are being conducted. Ave. M in Brooklyn? No problem; same for fifty other stations where they'll never conduct serches.

* Enter the subway via an illegal access point. There are many. I knew (ahem!) people who knew where to sneak onto the subway.

* Wear a suit. Put your bomb in a briefcase.

This will only serve to enable harrassment of the people who 'don't look right' to the cops.

Who's running the pool on how long it'll be until this yields its first possession arrest?

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