Published on -8/13/2013, 9:43 AM
Americans have come to know and tolerate the presence of the Transportation Security Administration at airports. While it doesn't make the pat-downs and full-body scans any less intrusive, we've accepted the security gauntlet -- even the routine of taking off belts and shoes -- as an unavoidable part of air travel. But wait, as they say on infomercials, there's more.
An increasing number of roving TSA teams in recent years has been quietly expanding the agency's reach with patrols of train terminals, highway weigh stations and other venues.
And while it's true that Congress passed legislation in 2007 allowing TSA security squads jurisdiction over "any mode of transportation at any location within the United States" -- a remarkably broad mandate -- we think there ought to be a fuller public discussion about the proliferation of these squads.
Without such a debate, there's a real possibility that the TSA presence will continue to grow outside the confines of airports and this nation will end up with a far more ubiquitous security agency than anyone dreamed back in 2001.
The New York Times, which recently published a story on the so-called Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams, quoted civil liberties advocates who take issue with what they maintain are the teams' warrantless searches in violation of the Constitution.
"The problem with TSA stopping and searching people in public places outside the airport is that there are no real legal standards or probable cause," Khaliah Barnes, administrative law counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told The Times. "It's something that is easily abused because the reason that they are conducting the stops is shrouded in secrecy."
Typically, the teams move through areas with bomb-sniffing dogs and randomly stop and ask security questions of people in the crowd.
Civil libertarians aren't the only ones taking issue with some aspects of the expanded TSA operations. A 2012 Department of Homeland Security inspector general report raised questions about the training of the teams' personnel and whether they were assigned based on actual security threats.
These roving TSA squads are no pilot program, either. The Times reported the program has a $100 million annual budget and has expanded from 10 teams in 2008 to 37 last year.
Before we have to accept an expansive TSA that routinely conducts unexplained security stops in public places, we think there ought to be a further examination of this development by elected officials.
Security is important, but for that matter so is liberty.
Editorial by the Denver Post