Local activists are set to gather on Groundhog Day, not in hopes of determining how many more weeks of winter we’ll get, but to call for an immediate end to random bag searches in the subway by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and MBTA police.
The protest is set for February 2 and will begin at noon at five subway stations in Boston and Cambridge to call attention to the MBTA’s partnership with the TSA which includes random and what they term “unwarranted” bag checks.
The protesters will gather at the Kenmore, Harvard, Ruggles, Lechmere and South Station stops on the subway line. They will ride the trains to Boston Common for a 2 p.m. rally at the Parkman Bandstand. The rally will feature several speakers and end at 3 p.m.
Participants hope to call attention to “random Warrantless searches of passengers in the MBTA transit system by any law enforcement organization or contractor thereof, and recognize these acts as an egregious violation of 4th Amendment protections,” according to an announcement on the Occupy Boston website.
The MBTA has conducted random searches and security inspections since October of 2006. Under the program, passengers are randomly selected through a computer-generated sequence of numbers, according to the MBTA website. The exterior of a passenger’s carry-on is brushed with a swab, which is then placed on an explosive trace detection machine. The entire process, said the MBTA, takes approximately 10 to 20 seconds if there is no positive reading. TSA agents assist at some stations.
Notices of an inspection in process are posted at the entrance of a station, giving passengers the option of not submitting to an inspection, but they are prohibited from boarding the train at that station.
In 2004, the inspections were challenged by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and were challenged again in 2006 (MacWade v. Kelly), but two separate courts upheld the inspections.
The notice of the protest on the Occupy Boston website stresses that the protestors are merely “community members” who planned the march yet “are not part of any organized group of any kind. We are ordinary citizens gathering to protest the violation of our rights as recognized and affirmed by Amendment IV of the U.S. Constitution.”
Despite the insistence that participants are not part of any organized group, the notice states that they will deliver letters to several officials and organizations including Gov. Deval Patrick, Mayor Tom Menino and the heads of the MBTA and DHS calling for an end to random subway searches.