Thursday, July 21, 2005

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

The lonely libertarian just heard that New York plans to begin using police to conduct random searches of users of public transportation on MSNBC, which just so happens to be on in the background. I have not read any other blogger reactions, nor heard any reactions on MSNBC. I've only read what was mentioned in this MSN piece, that the New York Civil Liberties Union believed such searches would "violate basic rights."

"The NYPD can and should investigate any suspicious activity, but the Fourth Amendment prohibits police from conducting searches where there is no suspicion of criminal activity," executive director Donna Lieberman said.

Well, not exactly. The Forth Amendment actually says:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The Forth Amendment applies not just to police, but to all searches made by the government. Which would of course include searches conducted by federally employed airline screeners, wouldn't it? But no, wait, I haven't heard any protests about searches of airline passengers. Sure there are complaints, but no one is suggesting that metal detectors and other search tools employed by airline screeners are unconstitutional. I wonder if any of the passengers on the shoe bombers plane complained when he was searched and detained?

The point being is that we don't have an absolute right to public transportation. Public transportation is a privilege, and in order to make use of that privilege, you have to be willing to comply with the regulations that are deemed to be neccessary. It's not a matter of giving up rights, it's a matter of chosing whether or not you want to put up with a search. If you don't want to put up with a search, you don't have to ride the subway. If however, you want to ride the subway, you can allow yourself to be searched. And if you want to fly on an airplane, you agree not to conduct protests in the aisles, or take part in other activities that would be protected by the Bill of Rights in other situations. The idea that the Bill of Rights applies in exactly the same manner, regardless of whether you're in your home, or flying on an airplane is just plain silly.

Or, as the lonely libertarians Constitutional Law teacher, Profesor Margulies would pose the question,"Planes, Trains, and Automobiles," what doesn't fit? The answer of course is automobiles, which are owned by private individuals and in which a certain degree of privacy is expected. Planes and Trains of course, are either owned by the government, or operated with government assistance under the purview of strict government regulations.

Of course, this is by no means an endorsement of random searches as a practical matter. The lonely libertarian is unsure of how effective such procedures actually are- the point is, taking precautionary measures does make logical sense, and searches of users of public transportation, like searches of airline flyers, should be perfectly constitutional.


Blogger Kerry said...

I agree completely. That's the whole purpose of why it's called "public transport". And the Government has a sort of duty of care for the paying passengers that expect to feel safe when travelling on that particular mode of transport.

2:46 AM  

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