Public comment at 1/3/11 RAC meeting: Karen O’Keefe

Subject: Comments to the Riders’ Advisory Council regarding suspicionless searches

I’m Karen O’Keefe, an attorney and a member of the DC Bill of Rights Coalition. One of the reasons I moved to this area was because of its excellent public transit system.

I want to start by thanking the Riders Advisory Council for listening to riders when Metro first announced a policy of random searches in 2008. The council voted 13-2 to urge Metro’s general manager to put the plan for random searches on hold until it had held public hearings. Unfortunately, Metro ignored the recommendation and, as we all know, has started a slightly modified version of the searches without having held a single meeting. I appreciate that the RAC is again listening to the public by calling this meeting.

Searching Metro passengers’ bags makes a mockery of the Fourth Amendment. The right to be free of warrantless and unreasonable searches was a central reason for the Revolutionary War, and it’s shocking that the population of the nation’s capitol is being forced to relinquish one of our most cherished liberties to get to work. Being able to refuse a search does little good, since people need to get to work on time and the expense and delay of a cab is not a realistic alternative.

There’s not even a logical reason to think this search policy would work. It’s a farce. A security expert, Bruce Schneier, termed the 2008 searches plan “security theater” to the Washington Post, saying, “Of course it’s not going to make anyone safer.” Common sense also shows random searches would not reduce the threat of terrorism. Anyone with nefarious plans could simply walk away and enter a different station, or even enter the same station later in the day. Even if the person were too dumb to just walk away after seeing there are searches, the chances that they would be the person searched at the time they planned the attack are tiny.

In addition to being nonsensical and treating riders like criminal suspects, the searches will cause serious problems to transit riders by delaying them. For one year, my husband and I were live-in caregivers for a disabled friend in the evenings. It would be maddening even when someone stood on the left on the escalators because a short delay often meant missing a train, then missing a bus, which only came every 40 minutes. That would mean that our friend could not get food, drink, or even use the bathroom while he waited.

This plan also wastes riders’ money – whether the money spent on this farce comes from our fares or their federal taxes, it is still paid for by the public. This waste comes at a time when Metro services are being cut, when Metro fares have skyrocketed, and after Metro had major mechanical failures that cost lives. When I moved to the area in 2003, the lowest regular fares were $1.10 and the maximum fares were $3.25. In less than eight years, the lowest reduced fare has increased by 45% and the maximum fare has increased by 60%. In addition to diverting resources from serving the public, this plan diverts Metro police from real police work, such as increased patrols.

Thank you for your time and for taking a stand in favor of reason and deliberation in 2008. I hope I can count on the council to once again stand up for riders, by calling on the Metro’s general manager to abandon this suspicion-less search policy.

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2 Responses to Public comment at 1/3/11 RAC meeting: Karen O’Keefe

  1. Pingback: Bag search opponents swamp Metro Riders Advisory Council meeting | Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition

  2. Ross Bagwell says:

    It seems as if the TSA is rapidly proceeding along a slippery slope of which we need to have some massive oversight.

    I first want to qualify my comments. I have spent over 23 years in the US military, including 5 deployments within my career. I have worked on checkpoints that include a nuclear weapons station, where security is taken very seriously. Every time I go to an airport, I cringe at the thought of the security theater that is being passed off to the general public as a “necessity” for “keeping things safe”. The TSA cannot dispute the facts:

    1) No “terrorist” has ever been caught while proceeding through a TSA checkpoint. Each and every time we have had an incident (including the famous “shoe bomber” and “underwear bomber” episodes), the individuals in question have been caught ON THE AIRPLANE while in the act of attempting to commit their crime. The TSA has consistently responded to these acts through a “blanket effect” that is supposed to prevent such an occurrence in the future. Unfortunately for the general public, this presents itself as a “cat and mouse” game.

    2) With the most recent developments, we now have the implimentation of the “body scanners” and “enhanced” pat-downs. There is a recent video on YouTube (German, with English subtitles) whereby the security expert proved that the scanners can be defeated (and, thereby, do not keep you ‘safe’). The link can be found here:

    This should be an eye-opener to the general public, especially in light of the millions of dollars being spent on these scanners. There has also been millions more spent on such things are the ‘puffer’ machines that were found to not function as desired and have since been mothballed. All of them. At taxpayer expense.

    3) The TSA has a horrible track record of theft that seems to be increasing in frequency. Newsweek published an article back in 2008 asking if the TSA has stolen from you:

    MSNBC even published an article that provided “tips” to prevent TSA officers from stealing something from your bag:

    NBC Miami mentions a crackdown in the Miami airport:

    Of considerable note are the statements where the TSA actually “shifts liability for stolen baggage claims to the airline” and that most of the claims to the airlines end with the individual being “denied compensation”, but that the “TSA aggressively investigates all allegations of misconduct.” My wife recently flew out of Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Washington, DC. When she arrived at her destination in Chicago (without delay), she found that a small item had been stolen from her bag. It was a customized, personalized jewelry piece in a small jewelry box, purchased not more than 10 minutes away from National Airport at the Pentagon City mall.

    When I contacted the National Airport Police, they told me that I first needed to “contact the airline”. No investigation was started, no statement was taken, no report filed. The airline simply took her information and sent the precursory report. Still waiting to hear if she gets reimbursed. If this was a military situation, the individual or individuals working the baggage area that morning would be brought into a room and statements would be taken – at least giving them notice that people are finding things missing, to attempt to dissuade any further behavior.

    The TSA has a blog in which they have commented on the theft occurring with their officers:

    There has even been a response from a “former officer”:

    Bottom line, there is a HUGE problem and the TSA doesn’t wish to address it. Instead, they want to expand operations to bus stations and train stations. In support of other statements made, there is absolutely nothing they are doing to “keep people safe” with the random searches. True security would require EVERY individual to be searched (you can imagine the fallout quickly building if it came down to a 30-minute wait just to get into a Metro station). Just look at the attitudes that form at a Redskins game from the line waiting to be summarily patted down.

    It is a slow erosion of the 4th Amendment, as we are not provided with a reason nor a warrant to be searched. And it is in defiance of the US Supreme Court, as they ruled that such things as DUI checkpoints are only constitutional if everyone is searched and for a specific reason. The side effect of these random bag checks at Metro stations is harrassment, delay/denial of the freedom of movement, and abuse of authority (as they instantly focus the law enforcement ‘eye’ on you if you simply utilize your right to refusal).

    Instead, they should train these officers with the same training that the Israeli’s and the Secret Service use in being able to scrutinize the public and profile those who are acting in such a manner that they may need to be questioned or investigated. It won’t be long when we have random checkpoints on the road where the TSA will ask you for identification and have you drive through a vehicle backscatter scanner. They do exist – they’ve been using them for years at US border checkpoints (where they should be using them). What will the public do at that point, when you are “suspect” for merely driving on the road? Will the public tolerate random stops and searches, in the name of “security”? Or will they tolerate being searched to enter a mall, a hotel, or a restaurant?

    George Orwell is already rolling over in his grave.


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