These days, the morning commute is hardly complete without a newspaper, coffee, and potential violation of one's Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
As commuters might have noticed during the past month — while they got their bags swabbed and frisked — the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) has seemingly re-launched its highly controversial "Random Baggage Inspection" program that spurred so much protest in 2006, when the initiative yielded zero arrests and almost two-dozen false alarms for explosives in its first two-and-a-half months, according to the Boston Globe.
In e-mail correspondence with the Phoenix, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo wrote: "The same Random Baggage Inspection program they launched in the fall of 2006 remains in place today. Nothing has changed." In a follow-up e-mail, Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan wrote: "Security inspections are random but may be increased (or decreased) based on specific threats or increases (or decreases) in the national threat level." He would not, however, divulge dates, times, frequencies, or locations of inspections.
Anecdotal evidence suggests there is a sudden surge in allegedly preventative anti-terrorism measures. The first recent instance brought to this paper's attention was on November 19, when MBTA cops set up shop at the World Trade Center station. Since then, authorities have been spotted conducting inspections at Kenmore Square, Forest Hills, and Davis Square.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney John Reinstein confirmed that his organization's Boston office has received several calls in the past month regarding increased inspections. "We think it's an intrusion on the rights of the riding public that really isn't justified by any significant contribution to public safety," he said.
In 2004, leading up to and during the Democratic National Convention, MBTA police were the first in the United States to conduct inspections on public-transportation lines. Protests from the National Lawyers Guild, among others, seemed to halt the defensive, but in 2006 — after a New York appeals court ruled that bag inspections did not violate an individual's constitutional rights — then-Governor Mitt Romney officially launched the Random Baggage Inspection program in Massachusetts.
MacMillan's recent response echoed an October 2006 MBTA press release that noted: "[The] federal appeals court found that random bag inspections 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." But according to some, that stipulation might disqualify the MBTA's ongoing actions.
"People are being asked to give up something, and what are they getting in return?" said Reinstein. "The state says that anybody can bail out of it, which means they can also just go ahead and walk into another entrance."