You Have the Right to Not Search My Bag

This afternoon I was in a Safeway/Woolworths store (an Australian supermarket chain) and the lady on the checkout asked to inspect my backpack on the way out. The conversation went as follows:
Checkout Lady: Can I inspect your bag?
Me: Sure. – I put my backpack on the counter
CL: Could you open it for me?
Me: It’s OK, you can do it.
CL: I’m not allowed to open your bag, can you open it?
Me: I don’t mind, you can open it.

We iterated over the last two lines a few times, when it became clear that no progress was going to be made I asked “Can I go now?” and left.

It seems rather pointless to demand to search someone’s bag if you are not permitted to open it. Not that they have any power to search bags anyway. I discussed this with a police officer about 20 years ago and was told that store staff can do nothing other than refuse to allow you into their store in future if you don’t agree to a bag search. Stores claim that it’s a condition of entry that your bag be searched, but apparently that was not enforceable. Of course the law could have changed recently, I guess it would only require a terrorist threat related to supermarket products (baking soda can make your bread rise explosively) to get the law changed.

The last time my bag was searched was when leaving a JB Hi-Fi store. I had a brand new EeePC (purchased from a different store) in one hand and a bag in the other. The EeePC was identical to ones that they had on display and they didn’t even ask about it. It seems hardly worth the effort of searching bags when anyone can carry out expensive gear in their hand without being questioned.

6 comments to You Have the Right to Not Search My Bag

  • W

    In the terrorist scheme, you’d have to search the backpack on the way into the store. Recent episodes in Sweden, had people replacing real items with explosives hidden inside, timed to go off at night, starting a fire in the stores. All they would have found by checking the “terrorists” bags on the way out, would have been mostly an empty bag…

  • i carry a shoulder bag with me almost everywhere i go, and have done for over 20 years. it hasn’t happened much in recent years, but i always used to be asked by shop assistants if they could search my bag.

    this really pissed me off – and still does. if they want to accuse me of being a thief then they can do it honestly and directly, not just by implying it.

    (and one of the particularly annoying things about it is that any women in the checkout queue ahead of me would NEVER be asked for a bag search no matter how big or bulky their bag is…but apparently it’s so unusual for a man to be wearing a shoulder bag that it must mean i’m a thief)

    i’ve tried numerous methods over the years to protest these insults, starting with outright refusal, asking rudely intrusive questions of them (name, address, phone number, bank account details etc), and going all the way up to demanding that they first make a written accusation, and even insisting that they call the police and make an official accusation of theft (and i will allow the police, not the shop staff, to search my bag)….if they’re going to make a slanderous accusation then i want them to be legally responsible for their actions.

    what i’ve settled on as the most effective method is “yes, certainly you can search my bag. it will cost you $50 for a short peek of 5 seconds or less”. it stops them cold.

  • etbe
    W: Actually my comment about terrorism was entirely a joke. I didn’t realise that any real terrorists were doing such things. In regard to placing items on shelves, it’s like Banksy’s practice of installing his art in galleries without permission – the galleries have a lot of security to prevent art being stolen but almost none preventing installation.

    craig: That’s an interesting approach. I had recently discovered that asking phone-spammers for money works well. I had a phone-spammer wanting me to attend a “free” seminar on real-estate investment, I told him that I’d attend for $200 and he gave up quickly.

  • etbe

    ZOG wrote the following, it ended up in my spam list and I accidentally deleted it. It would be good if WordPress had an undelete…

    W: This is all about lazy theft deterrence by presuming guilt on customers and nothing to do with terrorism.

    Russell: your response is quite excellent.. I have flat out refused, but my wife gets stressed when I do that if she is with me. More often than not now I just wont take a bag in, if i can. If I could bothered being prepared a little “bag policy for all bag searches” printed and attached to the bag detailing that the sore consents to $50 bag search inconvenience charge as a condition of all bag inspections could be a bit of fun.

    Yes this has been a pet peeve of mine, the bullshit bag search concept which a determined shoplifter would no doubt circumvent easily.

    In Victoria:$file/shoprights.pdf

    A friend of mine who works in security/crowd control advises having a printout of the Victorian Crimes Act for them to read.

  • Joel

    I tried this out at a Woolworths in Adelaide today. After taking my money, but before placing it in the till, I was asked to open my bag. I refused, and the checkout person asked me again, explaining that it was store policy. When I refused again a security guard was called over and he again explaineed it was store policy. I said I did not want my bag to be searched, and he went on to explain that it was a condition of enrty that any bags large enough to fit a loaf of bread was to be searched. He pointed out the notice that my bag would be searched, asking me if I had seen them. I said no. I asked him if he was accusing me of stealing a loaf of bread, or stealking anything from the store, and he answered no to both. Any further questions along the lines of “why must you search my bag then?” resulted in a repeat of the above. I then asked if I could leave, and he said I had two options; submit to a bag search, or be banned from all Woolworths stores in Australia. He informed me he has my face on cc-tv which would be distributed to all stores in Australia and used to refuse me entry to all stores. I then left my purchace – a 600ml drink – asked for my 5 dollar noote back, and left the store. On my way out I informed the guard that I looked forward to him carrying out his threat of personally refusing my entry to the store in the future. He wished me a good day.

  • etbe

    Joel: Stores do pan a small number of people based on staff recognising them. Sometimes you will see pictures of unwanted customers (usually shown carrying stolen goods out of the store) in semi-public parts of the store. But if one person had such a disagreement at a Woolworths store every year then it would be impossible for staff to recognise them all.

    There are systems that do facial recognition. Casino security staff have gone on-record to claim that they are used to ban people who count cards. Such systems are probably more expensive than anything that a store would want to use. Given the lack of success at successfully implementing fingerprint scanners I’m sure that facial recognition systems get reasonable numbers of false positive results and therefore it would be necessary to have humans monitor them. For casinos they have the money to pay extra security staff, for stores I expect not.

    It could be interesting to try a DoS attack on Woolworths by getting many people to refuse to be searched.

    Also one possible way of dealing with security guards would be to have a printout of Goatse (or something equally horrible) inside a bag or case. If doing that you would have to demand that your bag be searched in a private place (exposing Goatse in public would surely be against the law).

    But next time you might want to try my approach. Volunteer to have your bag searched but refuse to search it for them.