Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
The Electronic Privacy Information Center doesn’t appear to be enthusiastic about the Transportation Security Administration’s expansion of it infamous airport pat-downs to highway checkpoints, bus stations, concerts, rodeos and other events.
The TSA said Thursday it has expanded its Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response program “to perform warrantless searches at various locations.”
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, which has fought the government on privacy grounds over the use of invasive body scanners and intimate physical pat-downs by federal agents, noted that it had prevailed in a lawsuit in 2012 that “revealed the agency’s plan to deploy body scanners outside of the airport at bus stations, train stations and elsewhere.”
Fox News reported there soon will be behavioral detection officers and search dogs deployed at transit stations and other locations to enhance security.
The report quoted EPIC expressing a concern that the problem with “searching people outside the airport is that there are no real legal standards or probable cause.”
The organization noted the federal response was that anyone who doesn’t want to be searched shouldn’t be at those locations.
RT America also noted that the expansion comes even as complaints about TSA agent misconduct have shot up by 27 percent over the last two years.
Danny Panzella of Truth Squad TV said in the report that it appears TSA is heading for “anywhere where you have big crowds of people.”
He charged that the agency’s concept of security is “based on intimidation.”
EPIC noted that several members of Congress have opposed the expansion of authority by the TSA, which uses “risk-based” profiling and “behavior detection” concepts to search individuals.
The New York Times reported there has been “little fanfare” as the agency “best known for airport screenings has vastly expanded its reach to sporting events, music festivals, rodeos, highway weigh stations and train terminals.”
While John Pistole, TSA administrator, says his mandate is to provide security for transportation everywhere, civil liberties groups charge that the searches sometimes constitute warrantless actions that violate the U.S. Constitution.
“It’s something that is easily abused because the reason that they are conducting the stops is shrouded in secrecy,” said Khaliah Barnes, administrative law counsel at EPIC.
The TSA was launched after the 9/11 attacks and has some 56,000 agents, while VIPR operations were begun in 2005 after a train bombing in Spain.
VIPR conducted nearly 9,0000 checkpoints last year, the Times reported. But agents have gotten themselves into trouble, such as in 2011 when Amtrak briefly banned them from railroad property after VIPR agents patted down people after they got off a train in Savannah.
“While in the last decade TSA has employed many dedicated public servants who truly have a deep desire to serve our country, they have also hired an alarming number of individuals who in many cases would never have passed a simple background check,” Blackburn’s report stated.
“This problem has only exacerbated itself since 2005 when TSA administratively reclassified airport security screeners as Transportation Security Officers. To make matters worse, TSA upgraded TSOs uniforms to reflect those of federal law enforcement officers, complete with metal officer badges. Despite their new title of officer, TSOs receive zero federal law enforcement training and … many TSOs have displayed little respect for the titles they hold and the uniforms they wear.”
Her report detailed 50 crimes for which TSA employees had been arrested from 2005-2012, including theft, stealing, accepting bribes, felonious sexual assault, assault, threats, murder, smuggling, drunken driving and impersonating a federal officer.
It was Blackburn, again, who raised the alarm, writing in a Forbes editorial titled “The TSA Is Coming to a Highway Near You.”
“In October,” she said, “Tennessee became the first state to conduct a statewide Department of Homeland Security Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) team operation [that] randomly inspected Tennessee truck drivers and cars.”