Tuesday, 22 June 2004

More mandatory surprise warrantless searches of Amtrak passengers

The USA Transportation Security Administration is conducting a second round of tests this month of mandatory surprise warrantless searches of passengers and baggage on Amtrak trains, this time at Washington (DC) Union Station — located, ironically, just 3 blocks from the Supreme Court of the USA.

As in the first round of tests in May at New Carollton, MD, it’s unclear what will happen to passengers who refuse to submit themselves or their baggage to search.

The May 2004 newsletter of the National Association of Railroad Passengers reports as follows:

On May 19, by arrnagement with Amtrak, NARP staff joined a tour of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rail passenger screening pilot project at New Carollton, MD….

Initially, plans called for the May 4-28 demonstration to be voluntary for passengers, and the Justice Department approved it that way. After [the bombings of train stations in] Madrid, TSA requested and Justice approved the switch to a mandoatory screening policy.

Neither Amtrak nor the TSA gave NARP any clue who, or what division, at the Department of Justice was responsible for this “approval” of warrantless and suspicionless searches. As of now, there’s no warning or notice on Amtrak’s Web site that passengers and/or baggage at Union Station will be subject to search. And there’s nothing in Amtrak’s checked and carry-on baggage policies, conditions of carriage for passengers, security notice about ID requirements, or other policies that would require consent to search as a condition of travel.

NARP also says Amtrak told them that, “Any passenger choosing not to be searched is entitled to a full refund”. But that’s not stated anywhere in Amtrak’s published policies either.

I haven’t heard from anyone who has refused to submit to a warrantless search at an Amtrak station or on a train. I would welcome any feedback as to who is doing the searching, how they identify themseloves, what authority and basis they claim for the search, whether they make a request or a demand, and what sanctions they threaten or apply for declining to consent to search. If you plan to try this at Union Station, I recommend that you bring a friend with a video camera, make prior arrangements with a lawyer, and be prepared to be blacklisted by Amtrak.

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 22 June 2004, 14:04 ( 2:04 PM)
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