When the Minnesota Vikings faced off against the Green Bay Packers last weekend in Minneapolis, the big story wasn’t that the Vikings defeated the Pack to secure a wildcard berth.
It was, strangely, the TSA.
That’s right, the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems was patrolling the Metrodome. Nathan Hansen, a North St. Paul, Minn., attorney, snapped a few photos of the agents before the game, and broadcast them on Twitter.
“I don’t think any federal law enforcement agency needs anything to do with a football game,” he told me yesterday.
Turns out the TSA goes to NFL games and political conventions and all kinds of places that have little or nothing to do with air travel. It even has a special division called VIPR — an unfortunate acronym for Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response team — that conducts these searches.
Few people know that $105 million of their taxpayer dollars are going to fund 37 VIPR teams in 2012, whose purpose is to “augment” the security of any mode of transportation. They don’t realize that these VIPR teams can show up virtually anytime, anywhere and without warning, subjecting you to a search of your vehicle or person.
That’s not a fringe observation, by the way. Even the most mainstream news outlets have reported on the problems of these random checkpoints. And it’s being observed by mainstream news personalities, not just consumer advocates with a long list of grievances from their constituents.
But almost no one noticed when the Department of Homeland Security signaled its intent to broaden the scope of its off-airport searches even more in 2013. Buried deep in the Federal Register in late November was a notice that could dramatically shift the focus of transportation security.
VIPR may be limited to a few men and women in uniform with dogs, patrolling a sold-out stadium or convention center for now. But it’s not hard to imagine the next step, to a permanent presence with full-body scans and pat-downs. It’s a scene straight out of a dystopian novel and a direct affront to the Fourth Amendment values we take for granted in the United States. If we don’t say something about the TSA’s uncontrollable spread into almost every aspect of the American travel experience, we could one day soon find ourselves answering to someone in a paramilitary blue uniform whenever we set foot outside our door.