Protests Planned Against MBTA Bag Checks

File photo: MBTA Green line train

A pro-4th Amendment coalition with roots in the Occupy movement will stage a protest of random bag inspections at T platforms around the city this weekend, including Kenmore and Ruggles stations.

Defend the 4th, a self-proclaimed “group of individuals from a broad array of political/social leanings and organizations,” plans to demonstrate across Boston Feb. 2, according to an email to Patch from coalition spokesman Garret Kirkland.

“Any instances of ‘random’ searches being conducted on a citizen or visitor to the Commonwealth warrants protest on 4th Amendment grounds,” Kirkland wrote. “We believe that it is a gross violation of our rights and of the principles of our nation, that any person should have to prove that they are not doing anything wrong.”

Defend the 4th plans to march from noon to 3 p.m. Feb. 2, along several branches of the T, according to a flyer. Groups will begin at Harvard Square, South Station, Lechmere, Kenmore and Ruggles T stops.

The MBTA randomly inspects passenger’s bags, but does not search, according to Kelly Smith, deputy press secretary for the MBTA.

“These random, non-intrusive inspections take place every week at various stations,” Smith wrote in an email to Patch.

In 2006, then Gov. Mitt Romney directed the MBTA to perform random bag inspections for explosive materials, resurrecting the practice which started at the Boston Democratic National Convention in 2004.

“Passengers are selected on a random basis through the use of a computer-generated sequence of numbers, according to the MBTA,” according to an informational post on the inspections on the MBTA’s website. “These inspections involve the brushing, with a swab, of the exterior of a carry-on. This swab is then placed in explosive trace detection equipment.” 

In August 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York upheld a decision that bag inspections on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority do not violate an individual’s Constitutional rights, according to an MBTA press release from October 2006. Following the London subway bombings in July of 2005, New York had instituted a policy that was based on the MBTA’s random bag inspection program used during the DNC.

Two court cases- American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, 2004 and MacWade v. Kelly, 2006 – upheld the inspections, according to the MBTA.

“It’s not searches, it’s swabs,” Smith said. “They don’t even go inside your bag.”

Smith added passengers can decline the swabs, but they then forfeit their right to ride on the MBTA.

Still, Kirkland asserts Defend the 4th feels all such inspections along the MBTA, and the MBTA’s coordination with TSA, which performs the inspections, are at least inappropriate and possibly illegal.

“We find these invasions of our privacy to be unjustified, unwarranted, and anti-Constitutional,” he said in an email.

SOUTH END PATCH: Facebook | Twitter | E-mail Updates

South End Patch