Letter to subway officials questions constitutionality and efficacy of new plan.

Richmond, VA -- The executive directors of the American Civil Liberties Union offices in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia have questioned the constitutionality of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s proposal to conduct random searches of passengers, and have asked to meet with WMATA officials to discuss abandoning or modifying the policy.
In a letter hand-delivered yesterday to WMATA Chairman Peter Benjamin, the three ACLU executives representing the jurisdictions directly affected by the proposal say that searches of citizens entering public transportation systems are subject to limitations imposed by the Fourth Amendment.
“Random searches in Metro stations will diminish the privacy rights of passengers, and  dramatically slow down a system designed to speedily move the DC work force to and from the city, while likely yielding only the illusion of safety,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.
“Although we support efforts by WMATA to promote passenger safety,” added Willis, “we wonder if the increased police presence it proposes might not be put to better use patrolling areas of the Metro where crimes occur, rather than randomly rifling through the personal belongings of countless innocent individuals.”
The ACLU letter also expresses a concern that random searches, once implemented, are seldom truly random, but typically result in racial profiling:

“We also note that in the small number of cities where the use of invasive searches has been permitted, numerous complaints have been registered alleging the practice of racial profiling in determining which individuals to search.  Even the perceived notion that individuals could be subject to the frustrating and illegal practice of racial profiling can cause a chilling effect, which is likely to have a disparate impact on racial minorities.”

According to news reports, WMATA began conducting searches this morning at the College Park station in Maryland and at the Braddock Road station in Virginia.
A copy of the ACLU’s letter can be found online at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/20101221WMATAsearches.pdf

Contacts:

Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, (804) 644-8022 Johnny Barnes, Executive Director, ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, (202) 457-0800 Susan Goering, Executive Director, ACLU of Maryland, (410) 889-8555

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