By: Tim Cushing | TechDirt –
It appears Chicago wants to get in on New York City’s racket — steamrolling civil liberties because of a supposed terrorism nexus. For New York City, it’s been every day since Sept. 11th, 2001, greatly aided and abetted by a nanny statist mayor and a police commissioner who’d never seen a personal freedom he didn’t immediately dislike.
For Chicago, the terrorism connection isn’t nearly as clear. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any justification for the deployment of random explosive-residue-swabbing checkpoints at public transit stations.
There is “no known terrorist threat” that prompted the new procedure slated to begin the week of Nov. 3, Nancy Lipman, Chicago police commander for public transportation, said Friday at a news conference announcing the initiative.
OK… With that, um, cleared up, here’s how the TSA-Lite random acts of intrusion will go down.
Chicago police say they will randomly select one rail station each day to set up the screening table outside the rail turnstiles during rush hour. Lipman said most of the stations will be downtown but other stops will be included as well.
A team of four to five officers will man the table, which will have two explosives testing machines.
One rail station… out of dozens… selected randomly… with each search also being randomly generated.
Police will approach riders, whom they have randomly selected by picking a random number that morning, Lipman said.
For example, if police pick the number 10, they will ask the 10th person who enters the station, then the 20th and so on, Lipman said.
This randomly-selected person — if carrying a bag — will be asked to submit to an explosive residue test. The bag will not be opened. Unless it tests positive, in which case further impositions will be imposed.
A positive test triggers a search request. Commuters can refuse but they won’t be allowed to board their train and will be asked to leave the station. Almost “free to go,” but not quite. Chicago transit cops will be free to perform less voluntary searches should they decide “probable cause” exists to do so. Given that a bag has just tested positive for explosives, that should be all the justification they need.
Police spokesman Marty Maloney calls this random act of security theater a “proactive, protective measure.” Nearly everyone else, if given a few minutes to think about it, will call it “futile.” Or “stupid.”
The multiple layers of randomness are essential to preventing charges of discrimination or other civil liberties violations. (This is what makes DUI checkpoints and the TSA’s “enhanced screening” Constitutional — you either have to stop everybody or be truly random.) But this precaution also undermines the effectiveness of the effort. In fact, everything about this program borders on uselessness.
Anyone can refuse the initial test. They can also refuse to have their bags searched if they do test positive for explosive residue. Both actions will likely be viewed with suspicion but neither leads directly to detainment.
The city boasts more than 140 entry points, just for this mode of public transportation. Anyone who would rather avoid the “random checkpoint” will have plenty of options. The program checks a random entry for random people, rather than making any attempt to truly spot suspicious individuals or behavior. The Transit Authority takes great care to explain just how painless the process will be, what with limited checkpoints and no mandatory searches, but these words of comfort only highlight the fact that the screening system is almost entirely composed of security holes. The chances that this will actually prevent an attack are so close to zero as to be completely indistinguishable from doing nothing.
In exchange for its half-assed efforts, the city will likely net itself a few additional lawsuits, thanks to that inevitable byproduct of poorly-thought-out and poorly-implemented security theater programs: civil liberties’ violations.