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Discussion Overdue On Metrorail's Bag-Search Policy

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By Dr. Gridlock
Sunday, December 7, 2008; Page C02

Dear Dr Gridlock:

This Story

I have noticed for the first time since Metro authorities announced the new policy of bag searches the presence of Transportation Security Administration personnel in the Metro system, at the New Carrollton Station.

Perhaps I misunderstood, but my impression from news reports was that commuters would be challenged outside the system, before they passed through the turnstiles. If they refused a search, they would be turned away before they entered the system.

The TSA personnel at New Carrollton were on the train platform. Now, aside from the real civil liberties issues (which I share), there is the practical matter of challenging commuters who have already entered the system. What good does it do to challenge a hypothetical terrorist after they've entered the system? And what if a commuter refuses the search?

The questions pile up. In the absence of a specific threat, Metro authorities should rethink this seriously flawed strategy.

-- Stephen Byous Silver Spring

The TSA people were not there to search bags. But the writer's concern is a natural reaction to a message that the transit authority sent out in October: People in a public place can now be stopped and searched at random, rather than because they're suspected of wrongdoing. The searches will be unannounced and follow no discernable pattern.

It would be comforting to think that this new policy intimidates terrorists. But we don't exchange views with them.

Riders in our big-city subway system -- enjoying about as much of a public experience as we have in this country -- know only that they could be stopped by an arm of the government and asked to reveal what they're carrying.

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