Update: The TSA tells us that this claim below was a false report. Instead, they say each airport is responsible for their own security plan, and this was just how this airport conducted some of its security. That said, they also admit that the plans are "approved by the TSA." Still, it's entirely possible that it was wrong to flat out pin this on the TSA -- though it does seem legit to claim that this came about due to the culture of paranoia and suspicion that the TSA seems to encourage.
The TSA apparently has too many Fourth Amendment-violating irons in the fire, what with having to perform random searches in bus stops
and on federal highways
in addition to the bang-up job they do everyday ensuring that plane-boarding procedures are a fine blend of the ridiculous and the sublimely annoying. Now, the TSA has extended its reach once more, and it's leaning on private individuals to search other private individuals parked cars
Laurie Iacuzza walked to her waiting car at the Greater Rochester International Airport after returning from a trip and that's when she found it -- a notice saying her car was inspected after she left for her flight. She said, "I was furious. They never mentioned it to me when I booked the valet or when I picked up the car or when I dropped it off."
Iacuzza's car was inspected by valet attendants on orders from the TSA.
Take note of that, America. Your safety can only be guaranteed by a search of valet-parked vehicles, but not
by a trained agent. Instead, your valet will do a brief search of your vehicle to ensure there's nothing inside the cabin, trunk or under the hood that looks like a bomb. (Like, for instance, a bundle of wires and some other stuff with a post-it attached saying, "NOT A BOMB.")
There's probably not any Fourth Amendment violating going on here. After all, the crack team of valet/security experts aren't authorized to dig through any of the really "secret" areas
The report stated that the inspection involves looking into the trunk and engine and a "scan" of the inside of the car, which does not include opening the glove compartment or the console.
Granted, the cabin of the vehicle isn't really "private," but digging around in someone's trunk usually requires a warrant or reasonable suspicion. And I don't think I can stress this enough, but YOUR VALET is performing this warrantless, suspicionless search.
But is that the extent of vehicles being searched at airports?
[W]hy only valet parked cars? That's what News10NBC wanted to ask the TSA director about. We reached him by phone.
Berkeley Brean asked, "Are the cars in the short term lots and long term lots getting searched as well?"
John McCaffery, TSA, said, "No, those vehicles that are in the garage, short term long term parking, even if they carry pretty large amounts of explosives, they would not cause damage to the front of the airport. But for those who use the valet, the car could be there for a half hour or an hour so there is a vulnerability."
Well, that almost seems smart, except that cars waiting for a free valet/human bomb detector aren't the only vehicles lingering in front of airports, as J.D. Tucille at Reason points out
If the TSA is truly worried about car bombs at the curb, all of those private vehicles and taxis making drop-offs and pickups would seem to be of equal concern to cars left with a valet.
His guess is that the TSA does it because it has "nominal consent," thanks to a sign posted at the valet window that announces valet-parked vehicles will be searched per TSA orders. Except that Iacuzza claims no sign was posted when she dropped off her vehicle and the valet agency refused to state when the sign was actually posted.
I think it goes farther than nominal consent. Whether or not it makes sense to search vehicles parked for more than X minutes in front of the airport (it doesn't -- at least if you're not searching non-valet-parked vehicles) is beside the point. Vehicles left for valets to park present both access
, two aspects our nation's security agencies never
let go to waste.
The valet is going to be inside the vehicle to park it. That's a given. No expectation of privacy in terms of the interior of the vehicle. The attendant can also pop the hood once inside. Accessing the trunk may take a key or may have an interior release, but either way, the attendant has everything he or she needs to do a quick and dirty "search." A car waiting for a valet is a Christmas present for the TSA, which clearly has a jones to search as many forms of transport as possible.
And if you don't consent? Well, I suppose you're stuck parking your own car bomb at short-term or long-term parking where it can detonate in peace.
But don't worry, it could be worse. The DHS has noted that in cases of heightened security alerts, the TSA can randomly search any vehicle it wants to. Pushing this job to valets just sounds like the TSA would rather avoid more confrontations with pissed off travelers. Beyond that though, it just seems incredibly shitty to put untrained valets in potentially dangerous situations. You know, unless no one, not even the TSA, really believes anyone's leaving cars loaded with explosives at valet parking.
Update: J.D. Tucille reports that the TSA has responded to his queries with a noncommittal statement
"Each airport authority, along with their state and local law enforcement partners, is responsible for securing airport property, including the outer perimeter."
Sounds like cans being kicked down the road. Tucille adds:
Suffice it to say, as you can tell from the official statement emphasizing airport authorities and local agencies, TSA doesn't want to take credit for the car searches at Rochester's airport. Also, I think it's a safe bet that Laurie Iacuzza, and anybody else who left cars with valets at the airport before this story broke, was very likely not properly informed that their vehicles would be searched.
Looks like some improper searches have been occurring at the Greater Rochester International Airport. And if the TSA didn't give the go-ahead for these search-and-park maneuvers, whoever whipped up the sign and the notice left in Iacuzza's vehicle
will need to do a bit of explaining.