Monday, 30 May 2011

Can I check your bags please?

Ever gone to leave a store and been stopped abruptly and asked to open your bags for an inspection? Ever felt a little invaded by this? Well, it's ok if you do because showing your bags is completely voluntary.

That's right. Despite the store displaying the rather misguided sign "We reserve the right to check bags as a condition of entry, blah, blah, blah" and having a gargoyle out the front asking to inspect bags. It's all intimidation.

When you enter a store, you enter under the conditions of the store. The retailer must display the misguided sign described above if they intend on checking bags. When a bag search is conducted, no items are allowed to be touched, with the retailer only able to look at the contents inside the bag. 

However, you do have the right to refuse a bag check, but since a customer enters a store under the conditions of entry, the retailer can ask a person to leave. But since most of the bag checks are done upon leaving the store, this is no problem.

Here's a fact I bet you didn't know. Not only can a customer refuse to undergo a bag check, but in the event that the store forcibly conducts a search against the person’s wishes, a retailer could be charged with assault. If a store has an absolute belief that a shop stealing offence has been committed (i.e. they saw you stuff the Justin Timberlake CD in your bag), they can legally detain or search a customer. However, if a customer has not stolen anything, the retailer may be sued for false imprisonment.

The thing I don't like is that retailers must know this practice is not customer friendly. They already have plenty of anti-theft procedures in place like surveillance cameras, chunky plastic tags that set alarms off and expensive items in locked glass cabinets. Walking out of an electronic shop the other day I was asked to show the contents of my handbag. I showed my bag complete with an iPhone 4 the same as what was on their shelves. It was no problem. So, what's the point?

At the end of the day, this practice is now so ingrained and accepted that no one questions it, and if you do, people wonder what you have to hide. Most people do it without a second glance. A fundamental right in our society, the right to privacy, has been let go simply through a common desensitising practice.

Thanks to FindLaw - for clarifying this.


  1. The next step in all of this is to actually tell the drone at the door to politely "go to hell" next time he wants to rumage through your bag. When's the next trip to JB?

  2. I didn't know this was such a common thing in Australia. I've never had this happen to me in the U.S. I'd probably actually be very surprised if someone at a store asked me to search my bag.

  3. Mmm, it is quite chronic here. There's one shop in particular (as quoted by Tim above) that hire people that look like night club bouncers to guard the front door. It's rather intimidating. Although, if you read up on Australia's history, most of us are decedents of convicts. :)

  4. I knew there was something shady about you;)