Friday, August 05, 2005

Transit Security and Fourth Amendment Rights

I have had some time to let several thoughts and considerations to ferment, and have come up with a concoction that I hope anyone who visits the Flex Your Rights website, or in any other way subscribes to the thinking of the ACLU in this matter, will partake of before adapting their ideas.

And let me say at the outset, I am VERY sensitive to the erosion of ANY of the personal rights and liberty as defined in the Bill of Rights. All of those in government who think they know what is good for us, and think they can make better decisions for us than we can ourselves, and will stop at nothing to force an improvement in our quality of life as they define it, seem to be having their way lately. The recent Supreme Court Decision regarding eminent domain as it relates to private property is a perfect example of some really scary stuff going on.

But these people who are claiming that Fourth Amendment Rights are under attack when someone inspects their person or their personal belongings before boarding a transit vehicle are just flat out wrong. There is no threat here. There is no erosion of rights.

Consider that the United States Constitution was adapted in the last decade of the Eighteenth Century. People traveled at that time in the same manner as the Romans did under the rule of Julius Caesar. The Founding Fathers had no idea that three hundred people would be able to travel on one transportation vehicle. But they were wise enough to provide for unforeseen future changes. They knew that interpretation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights would have to be done. So they worded the Fourth Amendment, in part, "The Right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, . . . ." Key word: UNREASONABLE.

Here is where the interpretation occurs. When three hundred people jam into a Subway Car, does a search of these same people for weapons and bombs become unreasonable? The Declaration of Independence, a document which defined our Individual Rights (rights that the Constitution protects with the creation of The United States and its government) clearly states "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life (!) . . ." Interpretation must be made when balancing my Right to Life against someone else's Right for Regulation of Search and Seizure.

Notice that the very Title of the Fourth Amendment is, "Right of Search and Seizure Regulated". It certainly does not say, search and seizure is eliminated, only those searches and seizures which are unreasonable.

People are searched before going into a Courtroom. Horror of horrors, people are searched before getting on an Airplane! Likewise, searches might be necessary before people get on a Transit Vehicle.

Various Transit Agencies have made attempts at providing security. Virginia, Connecticut and Metro North, and even the Alaska Railroad (!) have made attempts. SEPTA in Philadelphia has an answer that appears to be political rather than practical. The Transit Union New York is hiring a Terrorist Expert from Israel (requires subscription).

Without going into the obvious reasons here, a terrorist attack has a greater probability of happening in New York City than, say, Billings, Montana. Consequently, any Agency that provides Transit in NYC has its work cut out. So what are they going to do, in addition to what the others above are doing?

Please don't listen to Senators like Durbin or Biden who are trying to make political points by saying that more money is the answer. Better points are made here and here that explain why money is not the complete answer. Maybe in the future there will be enough trained personnel, or new technologies, or whatever that will eliminate the need for searches. How about right now? Those things don't appear to be available.

So in light of all considerations, I like the idea that searches in New York are being done. Others agree with me.

It should not be long before we know whether our Fourth Amendment Rights will be defined as extending to Transit Security Searches or not. The NYCLU has filed a lawsuit. We all will be watching. But if I'm a Transit Patron in New York, I am hoping the Court finds in favor of the Agencies who do the searches.

* * *

Reaction to Random Searches on Transit
Transit Security: NOW I AM SCARED
U. S. Transit Security begins with US!
Cell Phone Usage on Transit, although some other considerations may change my thinking.


At 10:52 AM, August 21, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This also speaks to the importance of those doing the searching to have an appropriate plan for their efforts so that we focus on where the problems lie, not on harassing mothers of young children, the elderly, etc. without good reason. We will waste valuable resources with our random assessments that miss the obvious: most of the potential culprits are young males (although not exclusively) and behave in particular ways. Let's not diffuse the effort to make our transportation systems safer with random searches that are not demonstrably useful.


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