I just read this article over at The New York Times that says, starting tomorrow, police will be randomly checking people’s bags on the subways and perhaps the ferries and buses as well. In the article, Bloomberg says, “We live in a world where sadly these types of security measures are necessary. Are they intrusive, yes, a little bit. But we’re trying to find the right balance.” New York City Police Comissioner Kelley added, “No racial profiling will be allowed. It’s against our policies. But it will be a systematized approach. We’ll give some very specific and detailed instructions to our officers on how to do it in accordance with our laws and the Constitution.”
I’m trying to figure out how randomly searching people’s bags as they go to work is in line with the Constitution. Now, I understand that prudence is necessary. From this morning’s events in London it is clear that copycats and/or repeat attacks are a real threat, but at what point do we draw the line and say, “In a free and open society, we’ll forgo elements of our own safety to maintain the freedom we hold dear.” Personally, I have nothing to hide, and if an officer asked to search my bag I would offer it up without begrudgement. But I could see how some people might find this a severe invasion of privacy. The article does mention that “people who do not submit to a search will be allowed to leave, but will not be permitted into the subway station.” I find it difficult to believe that an officer would just let someone walk away if they didn’t submit to a search. No mention is made in the article about how long this procedure will last. One person interviewed said, “In general, people will accept it. The government has the right to try and protect us.”
To me, that kind of thinking is a fallacy, as it is admitting to the fact that the public is “powerless” to do anything about it, and only by handing over more power and authority to those already in charge can we feel “safe.” This type of thinking leads to abuse of power and laws that curtail our basic American rights. My question then is, where does this cycle end? Will we only feel safe when everyone is tagged and accounted for, when every package is scanned inside and out, when all privacy is completely eradicated from our lives? And I musk ask too, does such a thing as total safety exist? Do you truly believe that we can remove every terrorist from the face of the earth? At some point, we as citizens of a free and open democracy, must draw a line. But where that is, I don’t yet know.