August 19, 2005

New Yorkers support random bag searches — poll

By Chris Sanders

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Yorkers support random searches of
their bags while riding public transportation by a margin of
three to one despite objections from civil liberties groups to
such measures, a poll released on Friday showed.

And two out of three Republicans polled would allow their
basic civil liberties to be violated if it enhanced security,
said the survey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute
of registered voters in New York City.

New York authorities began randomly searching bags of
subway and bus passengers late July after a second set of
London bombings. The practice was later extended to airport
trains and suburban commuter lines.

The New York Civil Liberties Union said subway searches
could invite the targeting of certain people for racial, ethnic
or religious reasons.

"We believe that most New Yorkers would oppose this program
if they understood that it has virtually no security benefit
given the way its been implemented," NYCLU lawyer Christopher
Dunn said of the poll's findings.

Earlier this month, the group sued the city seeking an
injunction to stop the searches on the grounds that they
violate the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which
prohibits unreasonable searches without probable cause.

"Do you want to insist upon every right you are guaranteed,
or do you want to get blown up," said Quinnipiac's director of
polling, Maurice Carroll. "A certain number say (searches)
don't make that much of a difference and please don't blow me

The 9/11 attacks, when hijacked planes were flown into the
World Trade Center towers killing nearly 2,800 in New York,
likely influenced people's decision to support the random bag
searches in favor of increased security, Carroll added.

By a 72 percent to 25 percent margin, New York voters
support the policy of random bag searches of subway and bus
riders, the poll found.

New York voters, by a majority of 55 percent to 38 percent,
do not support government actions that would infringe on their
basic rights. But Republicans said, by a margin of 60 percent
to 35 percent, they would accept security actions that would
violate their rights.

Over time, support for random searches will likely wane,
said Professor Karen Greenberg of the Center on Law and
Security at New York University School of Law.

As New Yorkers move further away in time from the events of
September 11, 2001, and the July 7 attacks in London, "people
will not feel as threatened," Greenberg said, adding New
Yorkers' fear of everyday activities after 9/11, such as
traveling to Lower Manhattan and riding subways, has receded.

As fear dissipates, New Yorkers will see less justification
to have their bags searched randomly, she said.

Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,601 New York voters from
August 9 to August 15 for its poll with a margin of error of
2.5 percentage points.