What do you get when you put together New York subway riders, random searches, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and a “War on Terror”? Why, a lawsuit of course. Just last week, the New York chapter of the ACLU filed suit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on behalf of five New York subway riders to contest the policy in New York City, since July 21, to have police conduct random searches of riders’ bags and packages. The plaintiffs claim such searches violate their right to be free from unwarranted searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment. A link to the story can be found here.
There are claims that the checks are not random at all, but guided by racial profiling. Some politicians in New York seem to even prefer racial profiling, as reported at cnn.com.
Even if they are random, is it constitutional? City officials defending the practice state that the searches are legal and stress that individuals do not have to submit to a search. A person picked for searching may simply refuse and walk out of the station (and is free to enter at a different station). There’s even a guide for understanding how to appropriately refuse to such a search. City lawyers are citing to an Al-Qaida “training” manual, which identifies choice targets as those where there are no security checkpoints or police presence, to support the search policy.
Whether you agree with the New York policy or not, there is little doubt that how the lawsuit plays out in the District Court in New York will have ramifications for other cities that are also pondering such ramped-up security measures. Many of us who take public transportation have already noticed the increased police presence, and it’s likely that at a minimum, this is likely to continue. But whether having merely a presence is enough remains to be seen. This case should be followed closely, since it reflects a very overt infringement of individual privacy allegedly justified on the basis of “fighting terror.”
Posted by Peerapong Tantamjarik