DC Metro starts random searches of travellers.

Nov 03, 2008

In my "to post about" queue for a couple of days but certainly not forgotten has been a recent development in Washington, DC which Lyssa pointed out to me not too long ago. It seems that things are going far too smoothly in the nation's capital, so the decision has been made to randomly search the belongings of people traveling on the DC Metrorail or Metrobus lines, effective 28 October 2008 (registration may be required, BugMeNot for the win), which happens to be the day the new measures were announced. They're citing the upcoming presidential election as their reason for upping the appearance of security in the Metro system by pseudorandomly selecting a number and then taking every nth person aside to have their belongings searched as they attempt to enter a pseudorandomly selected subset of Metro stations or buses. The number and subset of stations or buses are supposed to change on a daily basis. Refusing to consent to the search means that you'll be told to leave the station or the bus; you won't be arrested. Of course, some people will try to re-enter via a different entrance but Metrocops have long memories for that sort of thing, which means that it'll really only work at the big Metro stations like Metro Center, Union Station (which has noticable security measures already in place), and Dupont Circle. They say that they'll be focusing on finding bombs in people's carried luggage which means that they will probably continue to ignore people selling drugs and fratboys drinking on the DC Metro, to say nothing of the odd mugging. If you look shady (for some arbitrary definition of 'shady') they reserve the right to stop and search you; anything found will be seized as evidence and you might be arrested.

Shortly after this story hit the newswires, Dr. Gridlock lit up with comments from DC residents, some of them even coherent. The consensus seems to be that this really won't accomplish anything but add an additional delay to the already hectic morning and evening commutes and frighten the people who see it happen around them. Many people, such as myself, strongly doubt the ability of the Metrocops to separate a dastardly device from a legitimate though high tech device, such as a VoIP ATA or USB-to-serial adapter. I am also concerned with the possibility that certain people will note what the people being searched are carrying and mug them for it later; this is already something of a problem on the Metro though it wouldn't surprise me one bit if it happened to get worse.

EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center has already taken to the streets to protest this change in policy by handing out flyers to travelers, which you can download from their website in .pdf format.