July 30, 2005

A slightly less ranty answer to why I have a problem with NYC subway searches

(posted to The Agonist thread on the NYC Subway Searches)

The primary thing that has disturbed me has been the zeal with which certain people who advocate them seem to be approaching their use to find things other than bombs. To quote from Mr. Browne, the NYPD spokesman in the NYT:

"Obviously we're going to use common sense for someone that appears to be an imminent threat." For example, he said, if a passenger with a large package had both fists clenched, police officers would be justified in searching him. Anyone found to be holding illegal drugs or weapons is subject to arrest, he said.
(source here).

Others have addressed the issue of 'common sense' and profiling. This doesn't sound at all like the rigid 20% random. But for the moment, I'm much more concerned with the 'anyone holding illegal drugs or weapons is subject to arrest.' I'm not concerned that their holding such items makes them subject to arrest, but I'm sure concerned with how those items were discovered. A security measure, of (at the very least) debatable constitutionality, put in place for what some see as PR reasons, has been (before it is even in place) 'extended' to another purpose - and has become a checkpoint for searching subway users for evidence of other misbehavior. Illegal drugs on their person have nothing to do (in the immediate sense) with the security threat posed by mass destruction weapons.

That's the problem I have. Once checkpoints like these are in place, and become accepted parts of society, then they can quickly and easily be stretched and perverted into instruments of control in other ways. Before anyone fires this at me, yes, I understand that denying the government the use of this tactic may mean giving up some level of safety assurance. However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. How long before I am required to present a national I.D. card to use the subway in my home town? This is not the political and social structure I want - and while random bag searches do not, in themselves, bring in into being, they are a significant step in the creation of an infrastructure (like Secure Flight) that provides the ability to impose controls on my actions and behavior that I strongly believe current interpretations of the Constitution deem illegal. It means that rather than relying on the difficulty of creating those infrastructures to protect us from abuse, we must drop back to relying on the integrity of every person and organization controlling those infrastructures - and no matter what party or person is controlling them, statistics and history says they will be abused at some point. Posted by jbz at July 30, 2005 1:46 PM | TrackBack

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