Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Absurdity of Metro Bag Screening

I wrote this letter to the editor regarding Washington Post's recent editorial supporting the "necessary nuisance" of random bag checks on the DC metro system. It didn't get published, but here it is.

In your unsigned editorial “Metro's bag checks: Necessary nuisance for a real threat,” (March 7), you argued that because bad things happen, Fourth Amendment violations are a necessary nuisance. Tellingly, nowhere in the article is the efficiency or efficacy of the bag checks addressed.

Leaving aside the millions of commuters in the other cities mentioned, 600,000 people per day use the DC Metrorail. If Metro Transit Police stopped just one percent of them on any given day, it would take 50 man-hours to stop 6000 people at the “quick” 30 seconds per stop.

Of course, a terrorist could just as easily attack a throng of people lining up for the gates even before getting to security, as the Moscow airport bomber did in January.

Random checks are, by definition, indiscriminate. Given that these searches are occasional and dispersed, the number of riders stopped is statistically insignificant compared to overall ridership and thus these searches amount to simple security theater.

If WMATA believes this method will catch a terrorist, it should start diverting five dollars a week to the lottery to fix its budget shortfall: it has roughly the same chance of success and doesn't involve the pesky Fourth Amendment.

Jonathan Blanks
Alexandria, VA

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