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MBTA police randomly checked bags last week at the commuter rail station in Holbrook.
MBTA police randomly checked bags last week at the commuter rail station in Holbrook. (Globe Staff Photo / George Rizer)

Activists sue to stop random MBTA bag searches

BOSTON -- Two civil rights groups filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority from randomly inspecting passengers' bags, saying it's an unconstitutional violation of personal privacy.

A judge scheduled an emergency hearing for Tuesday afternoon in the case filed by National Lawyers Guild and American Anti-Discrimination Committee.

The random inspections began Thursday, just in time for the Democratic National Convention, which started Monday at the FleetCenter. The policy is the first of its kind in the country.

The groups say the searches violate the Fourth Amendment because they don't require information that the person searched is suspected of criminal activity. They've urged customers not to consent to the searches.

"There is no way the MBTA can implement this policy in a constitutional manner," said National Lawyers Guild national president Michael Avery.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the bags aren't opened. Instead, they are run through a machine that detects if explosives are inside. Pesaturo said so far no one has objected to having their bags inspected.

"We are extremely confident that the policy will stand up to legal scrutiny," Pesaturo said.

The convention, which runs through Thursday, has prompted widespread security precautions across the city, including daily helicopter patrols and Coast Guard searches of boats in Boston Harbor.

Pesaturo said MBTA official would assess the policy after the convention and decide whether to continue it. 

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