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Bomb Threat at UMass Boston, Building Evacuated

Protests Planned Against MBTA Bag Checks

Defend the 4th, an offshoot collation of Occupy Boston, plan to stage a protest against random bag checks on the T in February.

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.

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JJ January 30, 2013 at 09:58 PM
Unless you have something to hide....give me a break!! Security is always good in these times.
Saul Blumenthal January 30, 2013 at 10:14 PM
So, JJ, what's your name and address and date of birth? I'm trustworthy, so if you have nothing to hide, why not tell me? And I take it you'd also have no problem with a cop rummaging around your house just to make sure you're not causing any trouble. I mean, you have nothing to hide, so why not? How about next time you go to the mall or stay in a hotel? I'm sure you'd have no problems with a search, right? I mean, malls and hotels have been bombed elsewhere in the world, and it could happen here. Right? On a more practical note, please tell me how searching maybe 0.2% of T riders, at just one entrance out of the hundreds of ways to get onto the T, provides any "security"?
SM_bos January 30, 2013 at 11:38 PM
Seems like an area where both sides of the political aisle might find common ground. Honor the Bill of Rights, even when it might be a risk or make someone uncomfortable! On a practical note, why isn't everyone more careful to clarify what's a search, a check, or a swab? The language seems to matter quite a bit here.
Frank Capone February 02, 2013 at 02:12 PM
It doesn't matter if it is a swab, a search or a check. You have a right to travel unmolested. The TSA is forcing people to choose between surrendering their rights (being molested) or not riding the train. The practice is illegal and a violation of the 4th amendment.

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