Monday, October 16, 2006

Security theater on the MBTA

In response to this story in the Boston Globe I wrote the following letter to the editor:

It was disheartening to read that most commuters interviewed regarding random bag searches on the T supported them ("First day of MBTA bag-search initiative goes smoothly", Oct. 11). This support no doubt comes from the vague feeling that this program is keeping us safer.

Unfortunately we're giving up our civil liberties (and don't doubt that we are) for just that: a feeling. This program will not make us any safer. Given the unlikelihood of a terrorist attack, the sheer number of total passengers, and the small fraction of those passengers searched, the chance of actually catching anyone is minuscule. And clearly, searching every single person is not only unfeasible but also unconstitutional.

The program's potential affect as a deterrent is short-circuited by the fact that the bag search can easily be avoided by simply refusing to consent to it and leaving. What will prevent a potential terrorist from simply going to another station or catching another bus? Mandatory searches would be unconstitutional as well.

This program is nothing more than "security theater": a program that provides the feeling of security but unfortunately provides none of the real thing. The loss of civil liberties isn't worth it.

Unfortunately it never made it in the paper. At least I felt better after writing it.


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