“We don’t like the idea that Metro riders are being treated as if they are potential terrorists”

Sue Udry is the executive director the Defending Dissent Foundation, a 50-year-old organization whose mission is to protect and advance the right of dissent. Her organization has teamed up with two other civil rights groups to protest the Washington Metro Transit Police’s decision to begin searching subway passengers in the nation’s capital. They’ll be at Union Station between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. today, collecting signatures. I asked Udry to explain why her group objects to the new searches.

What are you protesting?

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We don’t like the idea that Metro riders are being treated as if they are potential terrorists.

We believe the Fourth Amendment, which protects us against unreasonable searches, is being violated. We have collected the names of nearly 500 metro riders, many of whom have indicated their inclination to reduce their use of the transit system rather than resign their rights.

What is the Metro Transit Police doing now that violates the Fourth Amendment?

They started doing random bag searches yesterday, where they were swabbing people’s knapsacks and bags, and testing them with their ionization machines. One rider had been at a gun practice range, and there was residual gunpowder on it. They searched his belongings and delayed him.

This is exactly the kind of thing we’re worried about — people don’t have the time to show up at the Metro station an hour early, just in case they’ll be searched.

The Fourth Amendment protects our rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. We believe these searches are unconstitutional, ineffective and misguided.

How should the Metro Transit Police handle security?

They’ve handled it fine so far. They have police patrolling Metro. We’ve had no terrorist attacks on the Metro since 9/11.

Most Metro riders would like Metro police to confront the issues that do affect them — pickpockets, thieves, unruly teen-agers, crimes in Metro parking lots, broken escalators.

We want that, not more security theater.

These random searches are already happening in New York and Boston. Is there a concern that they could spread to other cities?

Yes. They fought these bag searches in New York and Boston, and lost. It’s time to draw the line, to say “enough.”

We’re all being treated as if we’re criminals. Our searches are less intrusive than those air travelers have to undergo, but it’s all part of the same continuum, of us giving up our privacy rights for questionable amounts of security.

How can people get involved in this issue if they are concerned?

We’ll be talking to Metro riders today, asking them to sign our petition and passing out flyers with the Fourth Amendment printed on them, and offering advice for people who want to refuse the search.

Metro also has a riders’ advisory council that meets Jan. 3 to discuss the issue, and we’re encouraging people to attend.

(Photo: Bea mobile/Flickr Creative Commons)