NYCLU Protests Voluntary Bag Searches

When New York City decided to start searching subway goers’ bags after the bombings in London, they did so in the most ineffectual way they could. First, they made the searches random. No preference given on account of age, gender, race, clothing, behavior, or anything that could be used to make their searches more effective. Next, they made the searches voluntary. If you get selected for a random search, just tell them that you don’t want to get searched, and you are free to walk away.

The New York Civil Liberties Union isn’t satisfied. While still recognizing that the searches are ineffectual, the NYCLU is suing, claiming that the random, voluntary searches violate the Constitution.

What don’t they get about “voluntary?” You only get searched if you volunteer to get searched!!

There is no “right to protect yourself from voluntarily relinquishing your rights.” If the cops come by your house, and ask if they can come inside, and you say “yes,” no rights have been trampled. You had the right to refuse, but you chose to take a pass on your rights.

To me, there are two options here:

  1. Get rid of these pointless searches
  2. Make the searches mandatory, like at airports

I’m no lawyer, but I would guess that the precedent that allows searches in airports could easily be used to defend searches on subways. If searches are the method that NYC wants to use, they should do it right, or not at all. The searches, as they currently exist, are designed to make stupid people feel safe, while doing nothing to actually make them safe. This is the equivalent of New York City hiring shrinks to ride the subways and say “you don’t need to worry… government is keeping you safe.” Either do something to increase security, or tell people that they ride at their own risk. This “yay, we are safe if we think we are safe” Kumbaya crap is pointless.


  1. says

    The only thing I can possibly think they’re thinking of is that the searches themselves are unnecessary, and as such are prohibited under the Constitution.

    If the police stop me for speeding and ask if they may look in my trunk, that’s legal. If they pull me over for the express purpose of asking if they can look in my trunk, that’s not.

    Maybe what they should be doing is asking subway riders if they may search their bags, then, when they refuse, hold them until a warrant can be made out. :)

    Kidding! I’m kidding!

  2. says

    First, we must stop pretending that the terrorists so far, by-and-large, have not been of the same ethnic origin. This will reasonably narrow down the search for potential perpetrators. But, it makes ALMOST as little sense to stop every Arab or North African in NYC today as it does to stop every 5th random person. Therefore, the profiling must be even more exact than race to be effective.

    Israel has been perfecting the art of profiling, and has successfully prevented El Al (national airline) hijackings since 1970. The profilers are trained to look for signs of suspicious behavior (body language), which provides effective clues of whom to question. Barring exceptional con artists, body language is a dead give away of suspicious behavior. In fact, police officers are trained to look for such clues when dealing with everyday criminals.

    The results: plenty of Arabs fly El Al, and yet enough people have been turned away to prevent terrorist attacks since 1970.

    So why not fly some Israelis to NYC to train New York’s finest on such tactics?

  3. Gil says

    I respectfully suggest thst your position regarding bag searches is misguided.

    While I certainly value my liberties as a citizen, it is difficult to excersize them if you are dead because of a bomb. Unfortunately the searches seem to be a necessity for the obvious purpose of preserving our lives.

    Please reconsider your opposition to bag searches.

  4. says

    Gil… who is saying that the searches are a violation of rights? I’m just saying that their random nature and voluntary nature makes them useless. Terrorists will just decline, if they happen to get randomly selected.


  1. […] So instead of a half-hearted effort in enforcing security, either we don’t have any bag checks at all, or the bag checks should be mandatory. The ability to refuse search in NYC just smacks of a half-hearted attempt at detering terrorism, and ultimately acheives no concrete goals. argues succinctly why in this case, NYC has got it wrong. Ultimately, i would prefer that there be no bag checks at all, but if it must be implemented, then it must be a firm and consistant policy for it to have any deterrent value. Posted by Nevin* on 22 August, 2005 – 8:45pm reply to this comment […]