News has come to light the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) won’t just be at airports anymore. If you’ve traveled lately, those are the guys who make you take off your shoes and step into full-body scanners, pulling aside people for random physical pat downs. They’re being granted a huge expansion labeled “VIPR” (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) teams that will have them performing random security sweeps at sporting events, music festivals, rodeos, highway weigh stations and train terminals. Read that again – the next time you go see your favorite band you could be subject to a random frisking in the name of “preventing terrorism”. Sound fun?
Concerns started at Union Station in Seattle, WA when hundreds of passengers stepped off an AMTRAK train and found themselves confronted by dozens of men with bullet-proof vests and guns. Donald Neubauer, a traveler from Greenville, Ohio, was surprised to find this was the TSA, “I thought they were just at the airports.”
While individuals, civil liberties groups, and some members of Congress call foul, TSA and local law enforcement officials are stating this is a crucial part of fighting terrorism. John Pistole, administrator of the agency states, “The VIPR teams are a big part of… our mandate to provide security and counter-terrorism operations for all high-risk transportation targets, not just airports and aviation.” What about that whole ‘freedom from search without probable cause’ thing that’s the 4th amendment of our constitution? The TSA states random searches are “special needs” or “administrative searches” that are exempt from probable cause because they further the government’s need to prevent terrorist attacks.
The program has $100 million in annual budget and is growing. In 2008 there were 10 VIPR teams in the US. This year, that number is 37, employing hundreds more. Public records show over 8,800 unannounced checkpoints and searches were conducted last year alongside local law enforcement outside of airports. This includes people out for a day of fun at the Indianapolis 500, a racing event that has never had a single case of terrorism in its 102 years of activity.
Where does this leave us? Public polls show that most Americans consider the work the TSA completes at airports to be at least “somewhat effective” in reducing terrorism plots, so it’s tough to think there will be major outcry as they start showing up in small forces at events. However as the size and stature of these unconstitutional searches expand, there will be a point many of us feel we’re becoming a police state. With recent revelations on how the NSA and government is already spying on most Americans who are model citizens, that time is likely to come sooner than later. Your thoughts? Share them below.