Court finds random bag searches in NYC subway constitutional

Friday, December 2, 2005

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) lost their court battle today regarding the constitutionality of the New York Police Department's policy of conducting random bag searches in the New York City Subway (MTA) system, which took effect July 21, 2005, in the wake of the attacks on the London Underground.

Finding that "the risk of a terrorist bombing of New York City's subway system is real and substantial," U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman ruled that random bag searches are not as intrusive as alleged by the NYCLU. Justice Berman noted that "the threat of terrorism is great and the consequences of unpreparedness may be catastrophic", and reasoned that it would be folly not to allow random searches to take place. Former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke, testified that the unpredictability of the city's searches would deter potential terrorists.

NYCLU legal director Christopher Dunn disagreed with the court's ruling, and believes the decision gives too much power for vague and unsubstantiated threats. "While concerns about terrorism may well justify certain extraordinary measures, they cannot support an indefinite program by which police officers are searching hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers seeking to do nothing more than ride the subway."

There are no known plans for appeal by the NYCLU, nor word from the MTA if the policy will be expanded to its other transit systems, such as the city's busses, the Long Island Railroad, and Metro-North Railroad.