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Privacy groups start petition drive urging halt to DC metro bag searches

A Washington DC-area citizens’ civil rights group and the American Civil Liberties Union have launched a publicity and petition campaign against bag searches on the area’s subway system.

The Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) and the ACLU of the National Capital Area (ACLU-NCA) said their effort is “a public education and petition campaign against WMATA’s random bag search program.”

MCCRC has been a vocal opponent of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) policy of random searches of passenger bags on its Metrorail system since they started last October. Although the WMATA board has met repeatedly to discuss the policy, which groups say violates 4th Amendment Rights against illegal searches, it has not voted to repeal it.

The MCCRC plans to assign groups of volunteers at one Metro station the morning of Feb. 24 in a petition drive. The groups are slated to continue the effort through the weekend of Feb. 26. In conjunction with the ACLU, the group also pledged to post flyers protesting the program, as well as providing direct contact links on its web sites to WMATA beginning Feb. 23. The groups also urge citizens to contact WMATA directors by telephone or email.

The MCCRC flyers call the bag searches “security theater” and do very little to increase security. It contends random searches “move terrorists from one target to another perhaps simply by entering a Metro station through a different entrance.”

It adds that there are large costs associated with the program, including the cost to individual privacy.

“This project does not pass a balancing test because it is so full of loopholes and ways for a terrorist to avoid being searched that it simply makes no sense,” said the flyers.


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