Privacy SOS

by Nancy Murray

I watched the searchers do their work last week in Central Square MBTA station.  There were five of them – five police officers gathered round a small table on which sat a metal box.  
One held a clicker in his hand, and pushed its button as people walked past to go through the subway turnstile. Occasionally, he would ask someone to stop, and give his or her bags to the other officers. 
There were bewildered looks but no refusals during the five minutes I stood and watched. Bags were swabbed and swabs were “sniffed” by the machine. People were then told they could proceed to the train.
“What are you doing?” I finally asked.  
“We are making sure no terrorists are coming into the station.”
“Really? What about the people you didn’t stop  – how do you know they are not terrorists? And what about someone who turns around and goes back up the stairs after catching sight of you?  If that person wanted to set off explosives, wouldn’t he just go to another station?”
“We have a dog patrol up there – they can catch him.”  
“Really?  How will they know?”
“Well, the cameras will catch him – look they are everywhere – there and there and there. Why don’t you smile for the camera?”  
“I have another question for you. I just read in the paper that there are serious public safety issues with the MBTA. Tracks are out of alignment, bridges are crumbling, that kind of thing. I would prefer my tax dollars to be used to fix those things, not to pay five of you to stand around this little table. What do you think?”
“That’s above my pay grade. We’re just doing what we are told. We’re keeping the MBTA safe.”

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.