Protesters to demand an end to MBTA’s random bag inspections

Transit Police do their thing.

You know the feeling; avoiding eye contact with Transit Police as you pass by the T’s random security inspection tables even though you (probably) have nothing to hide.

Most people cringe when authorities rummage through their belongings, but they deal with it. But on Saturday, a group of people who are fed up with the inspections will descend upon the MBTA to voice outrage over what they call “un-warranted bag checks in subways.”

Organizers have dubbed the protest “TSA out of MBTA Day of Action.”

The MBTA has been conducting the random security inspections regularly since October 2006, the same year a federal appeals court ruled that random bag searches do not violate the Fourth Amendment.

Passengers are selected on a random basis through the use of a computer generated sequence of numbers. Inspectors brush the exterior of carry-on bags with a swab that is placed in explosive trace detection equipment.  

The process should take about 20 seconds if no positive reading occurs, according to Transit Police.

“They are not searches. These random, non-intrusive inspections take place every week at various stations,” MBTA Spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.

Organizers of Saturday’s event said in a press release that they planned to reach out to the MBTA, Governor Deval Patrick, The Dept. of Homeland Security and Mayor Thomas M. Menino to demand an end to the inspections.

According to Pesaturo, “There have been very few complaints in six years.”

Saturday’s demonstration will start at noon, with protesters gathering at five points in the city – Harvard Square, South Station, Lechmere Station, Kenmore Square, and Ruggles Station.

At 3 p.m., protesters will band together at the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probably cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized.”

In August 2006, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York upheld a decision that bag inspections on the MTA do not violate the Fourth Amendment if they are based on a “special need” to conduct inspections without a warrant and are tailored to protect the rights of individual riders.

According to the ruling, inspections are legal as long as:

1) Riders get general notice of the program
2) The inspections focus on baggage large enough to carry explosives
3) It’s quick
4) It’s conducted in the open
5) Persons to be inspected are selected via a predetermined cycle – i.e. one out of every five

Details about Saturday’s event can be found at OccupyBoston.org.

Route information is available below:


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