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BREAKING: ACLU Gearing Up To Sue D.C. Metro Over Bag Searches

Thursday, March 03, 2011 - 02:40 PM

Gallery/Chinatown DC Metro Station (photo by Jill Robidoux)

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) The DC chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has been unhappy with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's bag searches since WMATA began the searches in December. Now they're seeking people who've had their bags searched -- and so would have legal standing in court to challenge the program's constitutionality.

Johnny Barnes, the director of the local ACLU, announced the potential lawsuit this morning. "The WMATA board is on collision course with the ACLU and its partners," he said.  "In 2008, Metro considered bag searches but decided against them. In December 2010, they decided to do them. In between nothing happened...Suspicionless searches don’t meet constitutional muster, but if you show a special need they do. So what’s the special need?"

Late last year, Metro began searching the bags of its train riders in an effort to combat terrorism. It stationed police officers at unannounced train stations, where they would subject the bags of randomly selected passengers to mechanical - and sometimes physical - searches.

Similar programs in Boston and New York City have been upheld in court. But Barnes says Metro's bag search program is different because it was not implemented in response to a specific threat.

In the weeks before the program went into effect in D.C., two people were arrested for plotting separate terror attacks against Metro. But Metro's top executives have said publicly that there was no specific threat that prompted them to implement the bag searches.

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