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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
      thats more of a way for the state to generate revenue, I drove trucks for 25 years an I know that the states and state cops would do an inspection find an imaginary violations, issue a ticket with a fine and send us on our way when going to get the so called violation repaired the service tech could find nothing wrong, but the fine still needed to be paid, More Revenue for a state, another tax for a working man or woman, nothing more that theft by law enforcement
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is how it all began in Nazi Germany...Papers Please
      • 3 Years Ago
      TSA really does not have many bright bulbs
      • 3 Years Ago
      Glad to know that no one believes in the constitution anymore. Everyone is just more than happy to surrender their personal right to unwarranted search and seizure. Most people are stupid though and have no idea why we even have a constitution, let alone what it says. Sounds to me like most of you don't deserve democracy, perhaps you'll get what you deserve after your relinquishing of your fundamental rights. Personally, I say F__theTSA and if they want to find guns, come to AZ where everyone carries, legally. They just might not like what they stir up in that state.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Keep them out there!! This area of random inspections is a must..
      • 3 Years Ago
      In the future there will be check points every few miles .
      • 3 Years Ago
      Your right of travel may be subject to certain procedural rules (such as stopping at a red light), but these are in place to assure that everyone has the same access to that right, not to put it in a category of "privilege". The "rules of the road" are there to ensure safety and equal access to the highways which YOUR tax dollars have created, not to dole out "privileges" like some dark prince of Nottingham might extend to his favored subjects. We are NOT the "subjects" of our government, we ARE the sovereign. As Ben Franklin once remarked: "Those who would give up an essential Liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither Liberty nor safety."
      • 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
      Thanks for taking away basic liberties Bush.
      • 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
      And some people say islam has never contributed anything ... full employment to anyone interested in security.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Big Brother is getting very near..next step...you will need travel documents to move between states...watch and see!!!
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