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VIPR: The Snake That Bit the Constitution

February 28, 2011

In a recent video from Savannah, Georgia, we are given the opportunity to witness the Fourth Amendment rights of our fellow citizens, including children, being egregiously violated under the auspices of a program called Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR).

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and especially the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are rapidly becoming the beast that concerned citizens always feared they might become. One day of mind-numbing terror has borne a permanent erosion of liberty, operating on the assertion that any government agency can rationalize anything with a claim of security, and it is above question. That’s the motto of the TSA: “If we want to do it, it’s the law!”

VIPR is basically a roving search-and-seizure task force. It is illegal for government agents to “randomly” search the person and property of anyone without a warrant or probable cause. It doesn’t matter who hands down the order or why. It doesn’t matter whether it happens at an airport, a local bus stop, or someone’s home. Search and seizure are off-limits unless there is a court order, or an officer has passed a certain threshold in proving a reason to search and seize something specific. Just ask any police officer, lawyer, or constitutional scholar. It’s all spelled out right here, in the supreme law of the land:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Under the DHS and TSA, this entire sentence is erased. The authorities exceed every limit established by a citizen’s fundamental right to security of person and property. Generalized fear replaces probable cause; searches are conducted and property seized in broad strokes following no oath or affirmation. Practices and procedures are openly unreasonable.

The truth is that, as soon as this behavior was permitted in airports, it was just a matter of time before it started spreading. If fear of generalized threats is the key to a full override of the Fourth Amendment, then it doesn’t end at airports. It doesn’t end at train and bus stations either. It doesn’t end at all. VIPR will slither into every aspect of our lives that it can reach.

If there is a perceived danger that perpetually threatens transportation, it can be invoked anywhere, from the George Washington bridge to the sidewalk in front of your house. It can be invoked on anything deemed a threat to transportation. The Savannah video is just a taste of what is in store for Americans if the “homeland security” machine is not brought to a grinding halt.

The founding principles of the United States are not optional guidelines to be suspended whenever a government agent can find an excuse. If we do not defend them at the airports, we will find ourselves begrudgingly tolerating intrusions everywhere. Every nine-year-old in the country will be subject to peeks and prods by mini-tyrants in blue gloves.

Protesting doesn’t help. Citizens have been protesting these intrusions since they were conceived, and the government ignores them—in some cases even labels their opponents “domestic extremists.” However, a restaurant near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport seems to have a solution. Shun the agents.

A restaurant refusing to serve TSA agents may seem like a petty act, but it’s not. It is exactly what they deserve, and it is a step in the right direction. Agents can make no claim of injustice as long as they still serve an illegitimate agency that violates their fellow citizens’ rights. If we can’t get the agency to obey the rules, we can punish its employees for following the unjust orders. Everyone knows the sad story about having to earn a roof over one’s head, and it is no excuse to commit crimes against your fellow citizens.

It doesn’t require owning a business near an airport, either. Anytime you encounter a TSA agent, make him feel uncomfortable. Ask him awkward questions about his job. Don’t give him the time of day if he asks for it. Let him know that his actions earn your disrespect.

This isn’t about being mean. TSA agents are sons and daughters and fathers and mothers, just like all of us, and the goal is to let them know that their behavior is unacceptable. Every person who quits or will not consider working for the TSA because of social pressure is a small victory, one less fang on the snake.

Have no doubt about it; this is a battle we must win, for the sake of freedom itself.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Wendy permalink
    February 28, 2011 16:52

    What I find interesting is the post-train trip search: it is actually unenforceable. The TSA needs your approval to search you and you can just say no. East Ohio Federal Court Judge Marbley stated in US v. Fofana that “Therefore, an airport security search is reasonable if: (1) the search is “no more extensive or intensive than necessary, in light of current technology, to detect the presence of weapons or explosives;” (2) the search “is confined in good faith to that purpose;” and (3) a potential passenger may avoid the search by choosing not to fly.” And furthermore, “In other words, the need for heightened security does not render every conceivable checkpoint search procedure constitutionally reasonable.” And “Warrantless and suspicionless airport screening searches are administrative searches and, therefore, exempt from the warrant requirement and constitutionally permissible if they are reasonable .2 See., e.g., United States v. Dalpiaz, 494 F.2d 374, 375 (6th Cir. 1974); Aukai, 497 F.3d at 958; United States v. Hartwell, 436 F.3d 174, 178 (3d Cir. 2006). This is so because they are conducted as part of a general regulatory scheme to prevent passengers from carrying weapons or explosives onto airplanes.” Note the word “ONTO”. Replace the word airplane with train and presto-chango, these post-trip searches are not administrative in nature and therefore require a warrant. JUST SAY NO.

    • February 28, 2011 16:56

      Calling something an “administrative search” doesn’t exempt it from constitutional protection anyway. The judges who ruled in that way should be ashamed of themselves. Rights don’t exist only in contexts that the government approves (like “free speech zones”).

  2. SavageNation permalink
    December 25, 2011 10:13

    The truth is slowly seeping out: They only have power that we allow them to have. The USA doesn’t have Federal police. Local Sheriffs are the supreme law of the land. Congress is pushing for a bill that would disallow TSA from wearing badges/garb as they are not sworn law enforcement, just federalized security guards (remember they used to be predominantly Philipino owned/operated security companies, which protected Americans for decades before).

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