The TSA: Coming to a Train Station Near You?

It’s derided as security theater for a reason: things like random bag searches don’t actually make us any safer – in fact, they may make us less safe by diverting limited law enforcement resources away from investigating actual threats – but politicians love it because it shows they are doing something. And if it’s a major inconvenience to travelers? Oh well: eternal vigilance and strangers rifling through your personal possessions are the price we must pay for Freedom.

So it comes as no big surprise that officials in Washington, DC, instead of dedicating law enforcement resources to something worthwhile – like, say, stopping the constant attacks against their city’s LGBT community – are instructing officers, in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), to conduct random bag checks at the city’s Metro stations, ostensibly to guard against the threat of terrorism (but more likely to catch a pot head than a jihadist).

“It is a way to throw the bad guys off who want to bring explosives into the system,” Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn said last week after announcing the move. Of course, a grown man who refers to “the bad guys” is not exactly someone I would like to trust with ensuring public safety, though I’m sure he has some excellent thoughts on whether Michael Keaton or Christian Bale made the better Batman. And as we’ve noted here before, as of late Taborn’s own officers have harmed more D.C. residents than have actual terrorists.

To justify the waste of taxpayer money, Taborn and other city officials point to New York and Boston, where police have likewise carried out random bag checks on their public transit systems. The glaring problem, though? Neither city has caught a single terrorist, which is a bit of an issue for a program justified on the grounds of fighting terrorism; the only “success,” it seems, is that the cities have gotten away with it.

Meanwhile, D.C. residents who have been subjected to the random bag searches, which the city just began this week in time for the holiday travel season, are unimpressed.

“It’s annoying because I missed my train that was on the platform,” one federal worker, Dawn Heuschel, told The Washington Post. She said TSA officers checked her purse and saw a Christmas present inside – but didn’t bother to check it. “Frankly I don’t know what they did over there.”

Security experts are also unsure what the point is, especially since all a would-be terrorist need do is log on to Twitter to find where the checkpoints have been setup. “It’s another ‘public relations security system,’” security specialist Bruce Schneir wrote about similar proposals. Contacted by the local blog Unsuck D.C. Metro, he said he stands by those comments today — and that they apply to the DC. Metro in particular. “It’s a waste of money, it substantially reduces our liberties, and it won’t make us any safer.”

Encouragingly, residents aren’t just meekly accepting D.C.’s new invasive tactics, brought to you by the TSA. The D.C. Bill of Rights Coalition and the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition just this morning announced their opposition to the random searches, launching an online petition that urges residents to voice their discontent to the leadership of the city’s Metro Transit Police.

“The online petition is just the first step in what is sure to be a vigorous campaign against a program that treats metro riders like criminal suspects and tramples on one of our most cherished liberties and constitutional rights,” Thomas Nephew, a member of the Montgomery County Coalition, said in a press release.

If you live in the D.C. area or you plan on travelling on the city’s public transit system anytime soon, be sure to let Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn what you think about the random, rights-violating searches. And if you see a station has a police checkpoint stationed outside? Walk to another one that doesn’t — or take the bus.

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