USCG Vessel Security Program Upheld

Monday, December 04, 2006
The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has upheld the US Coast Guard vessel security program. Plaintiffs, who were passengers on a ferry on Lake Champlain, brought suit against the federal government and the ferry company, asserting that the practice of searching the carry-on baggage of randomly selected passengers and inspecting randomly selected vehicles (including their trunks) as part of the USCG maritime security program violated plaintiff’s rights under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution (i.e., protection against unreasonable searches and seizures). The Coast Guard instituted its program under authority of the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA). Prior to mandating the inspections, the Coast Guard conducted an assessment, reaching the conclusion that commercial vessels of more than 100 gross tons and passenger vessels licensed to carry more than 150 persons were at high risk of a transportation security incident. It therefore required such vessels to institute security programs. For passenger vessels, this included random searches of the type involved in the instant case. The court held that individuals do have an expectation of privacy, but that such right is not unlimited. Here, the Coast Guard security requirements are justified based on the special need to protect against terrorism and are tailored to minimize intrusions while serving the goal of deterring potential terrorists. Source: HK Law

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