Saturday, 22 May 2004

Police to begin warrantless ID stops of Boston-area subway and streetcar passengers

The Boston Globe reports today that, “MBTA [Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority] transit police confirmed yesterday they will begin stopping passengers for identification checks at various T locations, apparently as part of new national rail security measures. Although officials would release few details about the initiative, the identity checks will mark the first time local rail and subway passengers will be asked to produce identification and be questioned about their activities.”

Many questions are left unanswered by the Globe story, including whether “ID” will be demanded or merely requested; what evidence or credentials of identification will be considered acceptable; what will happen to people who don’t have, or decline to display, satisfactory evidence and/or credentials of identity — and, perhaps most importantly, what authority is claimed for the stops and identification demands.

Disturbingly, the Globe notes that, “Last October, State Police at Logan [Airport] stopped Lylburn King Downing, the national coordinator of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Campaign Against Racial Profiling — and an African-American — who was ordered out of the airport after he refused to answer an officer’s questions during an identification check.”

No mention is made in the Globe story of the pending decision of the USA Supreme Court in Hiibel v. Nevada, directly challenging the Constitutionality of police demands for ID, in which arguments were heard 22 March 2004 and a decision is due by the end of the Supreme Court term (typically by early July).

The announcement by the USA Transportation Security Administration of its Transit and Rail Inspection Pilot (TRIP) program didn’t mention plans to “trip” passengers with warrantless police stops or demands for ID; it was described only as a “a pilot program for screening rail passengers for explosives,” and the only test site mentioned until today was at New Carollton (Capital Beltway) Station, Maryland.

The MBTA is both a government agency and a common carrier. As the near-exclusve integrated operator of multi-modal transit services throughout the region, the T says it carries more passengers than all but 3 other transit systems in the USA. Growing up and living in greater Boston without owning a motor vehicle, I depended on the T — as hundreds of thousands of people do today — for transportation anywhere beyond walking distance any time it was too cold and/or too wet to bicycle.

On rails, the T operates metropolitan Boston’s system of subway, streetcar, surface, and elevated trains, including both trolley and third-rail cars, as well as diesel-electric and electrified suburban commuter trains. “MBTA service includes four subway lines, thirteen commuter rail lines, five boat routes, and 170 bus routes servicing approximately 3,244 square miles. Service is provided to 175 cities and towns which comprise the MBTA’s district in eastern Massachusetts with over 1.1 million riders each day.”

Link | Posted by Edward on Saturday, 22 May 2004, 13:50 ( 1:50 PM)
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