Court Upholds Random NYC Subway Passenger Searches


Citing a “real and substantial” threat of a terrorist bombing in New York subways, a federal judge upheld random police searches of passengers’ bags and backpacks because they were effective in helping to prevent an attack, reports the New York Times. Rejecting a challenge by the New York Civil Liberties Union, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman found that the incursion on passenger privacy was minimal enough to be justified by the deterrent effect on potential terrorists.

“Common sense prevailed,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said. The civil liberties union will appeal. “We don’t believe the city has established that the program is sufficiently effective to justify suspicionless searches of hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers,” said Christopher Dunn, its lawyer. Police started the searches on July 22, soon after terrorist bombings in the subways in London. The police have searched bags at random intervals– every 5th or 12th passenger entering the station, for example. Passengers can refuse to open their bags and walk away, but they may not enter the subway with a bag they did not allow police to search. Judge Berman accepted the city’s arguments that the search program “adds uncertainty and unpredictability” to a terrorist’s planning and increases the chances that an attack will fail. He concluded that the flow of passengers into the system has not been “significantly impeded or interrupted” by the searches.


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