Washington Law Review


In response to the threat of international terrorism, the United States Coast Guard has issued new regulations requiring every ferry operator to begin screening passengers and vehicles for dangerous items. These new regulations will force Washington State Ferries (WSF), the agency responsible for operating the State's ferry system, to either begin screening passengers and vehicles or face a possible shutdown. Compliance, however, poses problems for WSF because of privacy protections under the Washington State Constitution. Article I, section 7 of the state constitution contains an explicit protection of privacy. This section provides broader protections from warrantless searches by state actors than similar protections found in the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Apparently recognizing that article I, section 7 would not permit physical searches of vehicle interiors and trunks, WSF has proposed an alternative screening plan that would rely on nonintrusive technology or dogs to screen vehicles. This Comment argues that the use of these alternative screening methods will also be an unconstitutional, warrantless search under article I, section 7. Such searches will not satisfy any of the exceptions to this provision's warrant requirement, and will make the searches unconstitutional intrusions into the private affairs of the ferry passengers. Despite its best efforts to find a compromise, WSF may still be faced with the choice between non-compliance with the federal regulations and violating its passengers' constitutionally protected privacy rights.

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