TSA Takes Security Theater On The Road: Mobile Groping Teams Can Pop Up Anywhere

from the somehow-this-makes-me-feel-less-safe dept

Via Julian Sanchez, we learn that the TSA has apparently been taking its security theater on the road, with special mobile teams, as a part of its VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) program. These teams apparently show up unannounced, and start their usual groping and scanning procedures at bus stations, train and subway stations, and occasionally even on passenger cars.

While the TSA is claiming it’s doing this to “prevent terrorism” (of course), some are noting that the TSA is working closely with ICE on these efforts, and it often seems like these “random” searches are specifically targeting potential illegal immigrants, rather than actual terrorist threats.

Of course, no one has a problem with the general idea of stopping terrorism or enforcing the basics of the law. But it does seem highly questionable, on basic 4th Amendment points, for the TSA to just magically drop in a team that gets to search people without any other basis beyond “we’re here from the TSA, and we’re here to grope.”

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Comments on “TSA Takes Security Theater On The Road: Mobile Groping Teams Can Pop Up Anywhere”

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105 Comments
Thomas (profile) says:

Re: Odd...

Civil rights went down the drain after 9/11. Now they justify anything by saying it’s necessary to fight terrorism. And anyone who objects is “pro-terrorist”.

Just imagine the TSA deciding they should check people on the street? They will be able to walk up to children and “pat them down”. I guess the convicted child molesters now work for the TSA.

SpacePirate (user link) says:

I'm writing a letter, anyone want to sign?

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation…

John Doe says:

I hope this fails miserably

It is one thing to do this at the airport where everyone now expects it to happen. But when you sign up for a train or bus ride, you have no expectation of being groped and can’t in anyway be considered to having given consent.

I just spent a few days in Philly, visiting the birthplace of our country and the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I can only imagine what the signers of the Declaration of Independence would think if they could see the police state we have become.

But then again, GW did lead the charge against the whiskey rebellion, which really disappoints me.

Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

Re: I hope this fails miserably

But didn’t you know? The TERRORISTS KNOW THIS! If the TSA doesn’t scan EVERYTHING! then the terrorists will just use whatever’s NOT being scanned!

Gotta tell you, little Johnny next door can hide ANYTHING in those paper-route bags… scares the hell outta me. PROTECT ME TSA!!!

/obvious sarcasm

TSA Security Manager says:

Re: Re: I hope this fails miserably

Thank you for submitting this idea.
We at the TSA know how scary it is living in this new modern world, are are here to help. Thanks to your suggestion, we’re looking into setting up mobile checkpoints at house entry points to verify the security of people entering into the public area.

John Doe says:

Re: Re: I hope this fails miserably

No, it’s not. This is as wrong in the airports as it is in the bus stations; saying otherwise is naive and dangerous.

Believe me, I agree completely. I have been groped once so far because I turned down the naked scanners. I don’t appreciate being groped or nuked and feel it is a violation of the 4th amendment. I am a big fan of the Constitution and do not even think the license checks on our roads are legal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I hope this fails miserably

It is one thing to do this at the airport where everyone now expects it to happen. But when you sign up for a train or bus ride, you have no expectation of being groped and can’t in anyway be considered to having given consent.

But, soon, everyone will come to expect it at train and bus stations (or basically anytime they leave home) so it will be perfectly alright there too. See how that works?

Anonymous Coward says:

What I find amazing is that you actually believe the story.

First off, since the TSA doesn’t ask for ID, there is no “going after immigrants” here. That is your first tip that this is a scare tactic story. Second, there is no indication of “groping”, again a nice scary term.

The funniest part is that if there was a bombing in a subway or train system, I am sure the same people bitching about this would show up complaining that the TSA (or other agencies) didn’t do enough.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The funniest part is that if there was a bombing in a subway or train system, I am sure the same people bitching about this would show up complaining that the TSA (or other agencies) didn’t do enough.

Well, I am not convinced that anything the TSA is doing is actually effective in the first place.

But, yeah, I might bitch about the other agencies. Especially after slowly eroding our civil rights on things like warrantless wiretapping, GPS tracking, electronic communication monitoring, etc. all in the name of preventing terrorism. If these agencies fail to prevent a terrorist attack, then I want my rights back immediately.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Your logic has no end. We all knew terrorists would target other unsecured places. After bus stations and trains, it’ll be malls, schools, places of business.

Do we need to have TSA and DHS stationed in every street corner to keep your logic happy?

Terror has won. We have submitted to our fears.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Remember when the seige with denzel was just fiction? Any day now ima see bruce willis rollin down the street on a tank rounding up “security threats.” We are on our way orwell, give us a few more years and your dystopia will be fully realized. Shit, we already got cameras watching us watch tv (kinect anyone?) Cameras wired to internet connected devices equiped with facial recognition tech, gait detection and lord knows what else, roving grope squads, and constitution free zones! Hot damn we are close!

John William Nelson (profile) says:

Those who choose safety over liberty . . .

The Border Search Exception is how the Border Patrol/ICE folks are able to work with the TSA to do some of these searches.

If you’re interested in the Border Search Exception, I’ve written a brief overview here: http://www.lextechnologiae.com/2011/06/03/strip-searches-of-the-mind-why-the-government-can-search-your-laptop-at-the-border/

I also have a paper arguing for reasonable suspicion being required in laptop border searches, and it also goes over the border search exception here: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1469292

As for other transportation related searches, there is good reason to think the TSA may be overstepping its bounds, but there is also pessimistic reasons for believing the courts will look the other way in the name of safety.

I’ve also written on the TSA searches and the Fourth Amendment, and my post links to some excellent law review articles on TSA screening at airports (the legality of which will be shared by the likes of AmTrak).

You can read that post here: http://www.lextechnologiae.com/2010/11/18/tsa-scans-patdowns-do-these-violate-the-4th-amendment-maybe/

I’m optimistic the tea party folks, as much as I disagree with them on so many issues, will help bring this chapter of 4th Amendment violations to a close.

aldestrawk says:

Re: Those who choose safety over liberty . . .

There are restrictions on the border search exception.

“A search at the border?s functional equivalent is constitutionally valid when:
(1) a reasonable certainty exists that the person or thing crossed the border;
(2) a reasonable certainty exists that there was no change in the object of the search since it crossed the border; and
(3) the search was conducted as soon as practicable after the border crossing.

For the most part, the border search exception is not going to apply to any of the VIPR checkpoints. However, ICE agents can question or detain individuals anywhere in the U.S. to determine, for example, if aliens have a right to be in the U.S. One thing I am sure they cannot do at a VIPR checkpoint is search your laptop or the contents of other electronic devices.

The TSA is using all the powers they have at airports at any of these VIPR checkpoints. This includes search of your any bags, purses etc. and a physical search of you.

Additionally, they are radiation detectors, and explosives detection such as dogs. It would be interesting to know if they ever use drug detecting dogs.

As with the TSA at airports you can always decline to be searched but with the penalty of not being able to ride the train, bus, subway, or trolley. If I had brought my bomb with me I would just come back when the VIPR checkpoint is no longer there. There was even a sign at the entrance to a train station building, during a VIPR checkpoint, warning that you should expect to be searched.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Those who choose safety over liberty . . .

A search at the border?s functional equivalent is constitutionally valid when:
(1) a reasonable certainty exists that the person or thing crossed the border;
(2) a reasonable certainty exists that there was no change in the object of the search since it crossed the border; and
(3) the search was conducted as soon as practicable after the border crossing.

I don’t know where you got that, since you conveniently failed to cite the source, but that’s not the way it works. Plenty of people, myself included, have been stopped by government agents even though they didn’t cross the border.

As with the TSA at airports you can always decline to be searched but with the penalty of not being able to ride the train, bus, subway, or trolley.

Or use the highways (you conveniently left that part out). You should not be subject to penalty for exercising your rights.

If I had brought my bomb with me I would just come back when the VIPR checkpoint is no longer there.

Because only people with bombs would object, eh? What a crock.

aldestrawk says:

Re: Re: Re: Those who choose safety over liberty . . .

The Congressional Research Service
http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/RL31826.pdf

I have a comment further down about the highways and passenger cars. I didn’t include it because I don’t think the cars or people in them were physically searched. If I am mistaken, and it is a guess as the news link about it does not have much information, then a lawsuit should be brought to stop the practice.

My point about the bomb was not about the degradation of 4th amendment rights. Rather, it was about how ineffective random but very visible searches would be to stop terrorist attacks.

aldestrawk says:

Re: Re: Re: Those who choose safety over liberty . . .

Being stopped is not the same as being searched. Were you stopped while driving? What agency? Was it a discretionless stop (i.e. was everyone being stopped at a checkpoint)? What types of questions were asked? Did they search you or the car without asking permission?
There are some exceptions apart from the border search exception but without probable cause these are very restrictive.

Greg G (profile) says:

Re: 4th Amendment and Travel

According to that list, the only safe modes of transportation left is:

Motorcycle
Bicycle
Pedestrian

And these are probably only safe for the time being, and only because they are limited in the number of people that can be transported via the vehicle.

The next to be stopped with be either Pedestrians because they can march en mass, or Bicycles because of a phenomena known as a Peloton or Paceline.

Watch out, Tour de France cyclists, TSA gropers may attempt to mobilize there to make sure your peloton isn’t carrying any bombs under those saddles.

non-anonymous coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: 4th Amendment and Travel

I’ve done some more research. I find that now the police can cause the reason by which they enter your home without a warrant. In Philly at least, the police can search you on the street without a reason. I am therefore amending my 4th amendment list.

Places to avoid if you wish to retain 4th amendment protections:

Your home
Anywhere other than your home

aldestrawk says:

Re: 4th Amendment and Travel

It is not clear from the linked article what kind of search was being done with passenger cars. I suspect they were only using radiation detectors and dogs. It would be problematic for them to even question the driver or passengers in light of the fact that anti-drunk checkpoints have to be announced in advance and that the driver has to be able to avoid the checkpoint after seeing it (or is that only California?). At any rate, what happens if you refuse a search or questioning? Do they force you to turn around and drive back to wherever you got your bomb? It’s like saying, at an airport when you refuse a search, that you can’t travel to NY but you can go to Seattle.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: 4th Amendment and Travel

I suspect they were only using radiation detectors and dogs.

I suspect you’re an apologist of some sort.

It would be problematic for them to even question the driver or passengers in light of the fact that anti-drunk checkpoints have to be announced in advance and that the driver has to be able to avoid the checkpoint after seeing it (or is that only California?).

Maybe it would be better to refrain from making uninformed comments, then.

At any rate, what happens if you refuse a search or questioning? Do they force you to turn around and drive back to wherever you got your bomb?

Because we all know that anyone who doesn’t want to be irradiated or groped must have a bomb, huh? “If you have nothing to hide, then you ave nothing to fear”?

It’s like saying, at an airport when you refuse a search, that you can’t travel to NY but you can go to Seattle.

Not if you’re *flying* to Seattle, unless, of course, you happen to be wealthy enough to charter a private plane or even own your own. Then you can do whatever you want. (Can’t pull this crap on them, they’ve got the money to get somebody fired!)

Rikuo (profile) says:

I hereby say that I will never travel to the United States. Not with this kind of police state build up.
Second, I remember several people saying that once you’re in the airport, you’re legally obliged to go through security. What about at the bus terminal? At the train station? There is a fourth amendment for a reason, and that is for the average person to feel safe and secure from unreasonable searches, especially from simply taking public transportation! This has gone too far. What’s next? Random pat-downs of pedestrians on the street?

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Gracey (user link) says:

I guess its time to start planning our vacations in our own backyard. I wonder if the US has any idea how detrimental this could be to their tourism industry? (they probably don’t care I suppose)

I was planning a trip to California and to Georgia…which suddenly I’m rethinking. I think I’d feel as if I were playing roulette no matter which mode of transportation I take.

Time to head east or west for me…but definitely not south. At least, not until I grow a pair of wings on my back and can fly myself there. But of course, the Air Force might end up shooting me down anyways.

For some odd reason, this puts me in mind of an old movie with Kurt Russell…escape from New York where NY was turned into a giant maximum security prison…it appears now this might have been premonition instead of fantasy…the next movie will be “Escape from the USA”.

Anonymous Coward says:

If I hadn’t read this article, and I’d run into people at the bus station who claimed to be from the TSA and that they needed to Freedom Fondle me, I would have first declared that the TSA only screens airplane passengers, then called them a bunch of idiots, then pepper sprayed them.
Having read this article, I am reconsidering the first of those three actions.

Jason Harris (profile) says:

Witnessed these myself

In the LA area, I ran into these twice in a week. Once at the station on a commuter train, and once on the subway in LA.

While they thankfully weren’t groping anyone, they would not allow you on the train unless you let them search your bag. These are trains that people rely on to get to work (and often prepay for) and they appeared without warning one day. My choices were submit to search, or not go to work I guess.

Bruce Ediger (profile) says:

Where are the "just take a bus or drive" trolls, now?

It’s hard for me to imagine that these sorts of “random” searches are at all constitutional, much less in an American spirit. Where’s the presumption of innocence? Where’s the right to be secure in your person and property?

So, two things:

1. Everybody with a conscience must have quietly resigned or transferred out of ICE. The New Yorker article on Thomas Drake and the NSA (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/23/110523fa_fact_mayer) shows that some NSA people had consciences, and resigned over un-American activities. I will graciously assume this is true of ICE as well. Shame on the rest of the nest of VIPRs: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and King would all be ashamed of louts such as yourself.

2. Where did all the “just take a bus, train or drive” trolls? What’s next internal passports? Little “living permits” like the Soviet Union used to have? Terrorism isn’t the new communism, it’s even better… for the New Security State thugs and bureacrats.

Anonymous Terrist says:

Here is the plan against the infidels

Now that we have driven the infidels insane with fear and bankrupted their country, we are prepared to move on the second phase of our Master Plan.

Since they have now been trained/conditioned to complete obedience to the TSA (at their own expense haha) we will begin disguising our holy warriors as these Agents in order to infiltrate and place ourselves in position to accomplish great works.

Please pick up your Blue Shirt, Badge, latex gloves and 5 kilos of SemTex from the distribution agents. Begin practicing these American phrases:

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”
“Please step this way.”
“I’m only following orders.”
“Why do you hate freedom?”
“I need to see your junk.”

You may entertain yourselves with random practices of this infiltration until you get the GREEN signal, which should be some time in the near future. But do not lose sight of the Goal.

Your virgins await you.

JoMama Bin Layin’

deane (profile) says:

dear USA,

thank you for the many years that you have been a wonderful country. I’m gonna miss you and all the good times we spent. since you’ve left I’ve gotten terrified of your replacement. he grabs my privates in public places and sticks his tongue out whenever I complain. I’m gonna miss you USA. thanks for all the good times

sincerely
Deane Truelove

Frost (profile) says:

I actually do have a problem with "fighting terrorism"

Let’s just take a brief moment to juxtapose the damage done by terrorism vs what is done by the putative “fighting of terrorism”.

The latter has killed a myriad Iraqis, countless Afghanis, created thousands of extra fantatics who didn’t start out hating America but certainly do now after a drone blew up their house, their kids and their wife, has shredded the US constitution, is hastening the march of fascism in the USA and the world, causes incredible delays and costs related to anything to do with travel, especially by air, and is furthermore used as an excuse for every egregious violation of human rights in the USA and world-wide.

Terrorism itself has killed a few thousand people over the years and the chance of anyone dying of a terrorist attack is massively lower than the risk of dying by slipping in the tub at home!

Let’s stop for just one short second and contemplate which is worse here, the disease or the putative cure?

Of course we should have police, and that police should be extremely heavily monitored to make sure they don’t overstep their authority. If that hampers their efficiency somewhat then that’s the way it has to be. This TSA BS? This is just unacceptable and outrageous.

mundens (profile) says:

VIPR == Terrorist attack squad

The silly thing is that the more the US government’s agencies do this sort of thing, the easier it is for terrorists to operate.

Now, all the terrorists have to do is dress up as a TSA VIPR team and they’ll be able to carry out whatever terrorist action they like!

Hey wait a minute, are you sure those VIPR teams are _actually_ sent out by the TSA? Maybe Al Quaeda is doing it as part of a recruiting drive?

Next time anyone sees a VIPR team, I suggest calling the FBI and reporting the potential terrorist recruiting cell operation you’re witnesssing!

Mutantone (profile) says:

?His name had been floated for the federal job earlier this year and was warmly received by unions and airport screeners, who say Southers will embrace collective bargaining for screeners.
Now “the question of bargaining rights at TSA is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when,’ ” said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, in a statement applauding the choice. “We are confident that the appointment of Mr. Southers as administrator will help put that matter to bed.”
It really does not matter one bit that he has any skills in keeping us safe It was an appeasement appointment for the unions to gain more power and funding. The real threat is not the terrorist that he is suppose to be stopping but the growing expansion of the Unions in that protective cover that we all have to depend upon for our safety.
It is as plain as day the reason for his appointment has nothing to do with Airport security but everything to do with Union job security
And now they are demanding new powers that will allow them to close off a state from another over an Union dispute which the Supreme court has The Freedom from Union Violence Act of 1997[1] and 2007[2] were identical bills proposed in the United States Congress. Their intended purpose was to amend the Hobbs Act and make violence committed in pursuit of labor union goals a federal crime. They would impose a fine of up to $100,000, 20 years imprisonment, or both, on labor unions that commit or threaten to use violence, extortion, or the obstruction of commerce in the furtherance of labor union goals and objectives.
?The bills faced strong opposition from labor unions and others, especially for the clause that would disallow “obstruction of commerce,” and failed to pass into law both times. Opponents noted that violence and extortion were already crimes, and argued that there was no need to pass a special law setting aside union violence and union extortion as being especially heinous.?
But now on a silver platter they want to destroy the Constitution

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