Recently LA local news picked up on how 25 TSA VIPR teams have been rotating through train stations, including Union Station, since last summer. The reason the story is getting play again is because TSA announced plans to deploy 12 more teams across the country over the coming months. So people naturally wanted to know what the existing teams have been doing all of this time.
It turns out that in LA they've conducted over 9,300 "suspicionless" searches of travelers and commuters, and in Savannah they at one point randomly screened people who weren't even going into the station.
Before you conclude that a "suspicionless search" is obviously and by definition illegalsince police need probable cause to search youthat's not exactly right. The legal standard is that citizens are protected from searches when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Presumably TSA, with the backing of the President and Congress, has concluded that you don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a train station (although even the TSA blog addmitted that the stunt in Savannah was out of bounds).
None of which decreases our discomfort with the idea that traveling by definition now opens you up to random searching. That's what it means, after all, to declare that all airports, highways, ports, bus stations, train stations, and so on are fair game. Yikes. Legal doesn't mean not creepy.
[Photo: The Port of Authority / Wiki Commons]