• Oct 26th 2011 at 1:15PM
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A TSA agent chatting with a truck driver (TSA).
Drivers in Tennessee may have been alarmed by news reports claiming the Transportation Security Administration is starting to inspect drivers on Tennessee highways, but the TSA says those stories are false.

Well, at least partially false.

The TSA was in Tennessee, the agency said Tuesday, reacting to a rash of blog posts claiming the government agency is beginning to broaden its powers. But it was only there for a couple of days, and focused its security checks on truck drivers.

"It's really startling to see how off-base some of the claims have been," the agency said on its blog.

The stories began after a local news station reported that Tennessee became the first state to invite the TSA in to do random checks on highway drivers, focusing on trucks. The TSA says agency staff came in for just three days – Oct. 18, 19 and 20 – to help the state improve communication between state, federal and local agencies during a crisis. It does not plan to stick around, and won't be setting up permanent checkpoints in the state, the TSA said.

The state set up five screening stations in various locations. In addition to this temporary event, the Tennessee highway patrol is beefing up its truck inspections, to search for bomb materials and other suspicious cargo that could be shipped via the highway.

Local broadcast news footage showed TSA officers wearing blue uniforms and yellow vests standing near trucks and talking to drivers.

"TSA officers did not physically screen drivers during this exercise, as erroneously reported," wrote Bob Burns, a social media analyst for the TSA, on the agency's blog. "The actual vehicle inspections were conducted by the Tennessee State Highway Patrol just the same as they are done every day."

TSA beyond the airport

But the TSA does in fact work outside of airport screening areas. The folks in Tennessee were from the agency's Visible Intermodal Prevention Response (VIPR) team. The VIPR team is comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosives detection canine teams.

The VIPR teams are sent into places where people travel – by bus, train, and now apparently highways – to provide a "surge" in screening from time to time. That random surge is meant to deter criminals from trying to carry out their evil deeds, because they never know when they'll be subjected to searches.

But many in the public say that by heading onto highways, TSA is expanding its powers too broadly and invasively.

"The notion of random searches spreading everywhere in American life, whether you're exercising the 'privilege' of going to a sporting event or driving down the highway, amounts to an unconstitutional surrender to terrorism in places where we've never even been hit by it," wrote Conor Friedersdorf in an article on The Atlantic's web site.

TSA leaders have argued for years that they are justified in patting down passengers, looking at semi-naked images of passengers, and confiscating hand creams and lotions because flying is a "privilege."

"I see flying as a privilege that is a public safety issue," Congressional Quarterly quoted TSA head John Pistole saying last year, when defending the new airport screening devices and advanced pat-downs the agency instituted.

But what other kinds of travel are considered a privilege?

Buses, trains and ferries

According to the TSA, buses, trains, and ferries could also be considered privileged travel. The agency was temporarily kicked out of Amtrak stations earlier this year when it screened passengers coming off a train, including patting down a 9-year-old boy.

Following the train bombings in Madrid in 2007, TSA beefed up its train station presence for a while.

Earlier that year, it had agents at the Point Judith (Block Island) ferry terminal in Rhode Island, and the Cape May-Lewes Ferry in N.J. Travelers heading to Martha's Vineyard also saw TSA agents at the ferry terminal in Massachusetts.

So it is not too far-fetched to believe the TSA could determine highway travel is another type of travel that needs to be monitored, although it could prove to be a logistical nightmare. There are thousands of trucks stops around the country.

Although you may encounter TSA on the highways one day, rest assured, there is one place the TSA has no intentions (at least not yet) of going:

"We are not getting into the business of body cavity searches," Pistole said back in 2010. "That's not where we are."

Here is the original local news story which caused the kerfuffle:

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      You think that they never read the 4th Amendent to our constitution!! Not only that they take a oath to serve and protect that document. I hope they try it on me. I will be one rich man. can anybody say lawsuit. As the favorite saying goes. When the citizens are afraid of the government you have tryanny. When the government is afraid of the citizens yoiuy have LIBERTY
      • 3 Years Ago
      American Gestapo
      • 3 Years Ago
      German Brown Shirts in America. We gave these untrained Federal goons the power and it's time we take it away for good!
      • 3 Years Ago
      I take Amtrak all the time they better not try to pat me down..
      • 3 Years Ago
      I understand they have a job to do, but do they have to have a nasty attitude?,Some of these people are just too rude.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Darling Ann........... you're an idiot............... They handle ANYTHING that has to do with transportation.......... are you all that stupid......................
      • 3 Years Ago
      Thanks for taking away basic liberties Bush.
      • 3 Years Ago
      You all want to be kept safe but dont want to go through the hassle for a few minutes that makes no sense are they jusy supposed to look at you and say ok he/she is good to go , go ahead on have a great day DUH!
      • 3 Years Ago
      People should have realized that when a right that we as Amercans have enjoyed, (search and seizure), that was given up to a lot of laws was passed that this is the other side of being safe. I wonder how many Senators would put up with this crap? They ought to do this in Washington.....just saying protect American rights. All of them
      • 3 Years Ago
      Anyone here old enough to remember the Gestapo and the Brown Shirts, the SA and SS??????? Better read up on your history!
      • 3 Years Ago
      The TSA is unnecessary. The utterly simple step of hardening cockpit doors made them redundant. Now, they are looking to expand their fiefdom. This useless band of bureaucrats and thieves should be disbanded to save billions.
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