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Homeland Insecurity: Checkpoints, Warrantless Searches and Security Theater

February 2, 2015 in Economics

By Patrick G. Eddington

Patrick G. Eddington

Since June 2013, the American public, press, and policy-makers have been debating the implications of Edward Snowden’s disclosures of mass U.S. government surveillance programs, most established after the 9/11 attacks. Our reliance on modern communications technology and its connection with our basic constitutional rights of free speech and Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless seizures and searches is at the heart of that debate. But while that controversy has raged very publicly (even globally), another series of U.S. government search and seizure activities have only recently started to receive the scrutiny they deserve. And just as the over-reach by the NSA sparked what I have previously termed the “digital resistance movement,” these other searches—conducted by elements of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—have sparked a more traditional form of citizen resistance.

Enter the VIPR

Less than three years after the 9/11 attacks struck American commercial aviation carriers, Al Qaeda-inspired terrorists targeted a different kind of transportation system— Madrid’s commuter rail network. Just over a year after that attack, terrorists struck the London bus and subway system. Fearing U.S. transit systems would be next, DHS officials responded by creating Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams, composed of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Federal Air Marshall (FAM) personnel, augmented by state or local law enforcement organizations. Touted as a means of deterring and preventing terrorism, the VIPR program has grown from a single team in 2004-05 to over 30-teams and an annual budget of over $100 million today. As the number and scope of VIPR operations have grown, so has the controversy surrounding their employment.

Warrantless searches and internal checkpoints are characteristics of totalitarian political systems.”

While VIPR teams began as extensions of security at major airports, TSA officials gradually began pushing VIPR operations beyond airports—to major transit systems in Washington, Houston, Boston, New York City, and most recently, Chicago. Multiple published reports over the past several years have documented warrantless baggage searches by VIPR teams on these transit systems. TSA officials claim that the judicially-created “special needs” exception to the Fourth Amendment provides them with the legal authority to conduct such searches. In 2011, a VIPR team took over the Amtrak station in Savannah, Georgia and conducted warrantless searches of detraining passengers. The same year in Tennessee, VIPR teams conducted warrantless searches of trucks at weigh stations.

Over the last decade, VIPR …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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