Judge OKs Random Bag Searches in Boston

A federal judge on Wednesday allowed security officials to continue searching the bags of bus and subway passengers traveling near the Democratic National Convention (search), over the objections of two civil rights groups.

U.S. District Judge George O'Toole said the searches were a response to a genuine security concern, the intrusion on passengers is limited, and that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (search) has adequately prepared riders to expect the searches.

At a hearing Tuesday, the National Lawyers Guild (search) and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (search) argued that the inspections were unconstitutionally intrusive and violated personal privacy rights.

They also said the policy violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches, because MBTA officials don't require information that the person being searched is suspected of criminal activity.

Tuesday's emergency hearing focused only on searches of passengers riding buses along Interstate 93 past the FleetCenter — site of this week's Democratic convention — and on a section of subway that passes beneath the arena.

An MBTA spokesman had no immediate comment on the ruling.

Urszula Masny-Latos, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, said she was disappointed.

"How far are we going to go with all those repressions we are experiencing now in the name of so-called security?" she said. "To have very restrictive policy doesn't make us safe, on the contrary, it makes us more fearful and afraid."

She said the group won't appeal because the convention would be over by the time the appeal was heard.

The subway and bus inspections began last week, just in time for the convention, which started Monday at the FleetCenter. The policy is the first of its kind in the country.