OOIDA expresses concerns about driver privacy

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GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. — The U.S.-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) is taking a stand to protect the privacy rights of HazMat haulers.

The association is concerned about proposed changes in rules concerning background checks for HazMat haulers.

"Truck drivers guard their right to privacy jealously," the association said in written comments, which were filed with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Dec. 27. "Their biggest worry is that private information will be misused or that incorrect or ambiguous information will become attached to their professional reputation and work history. Either scenario could put an end to a trucking career."

OOIDA went on to say most truckers are worried the TSA will provide information obtained through background checks to third parties, which will then be able to access drivers’ backgrounds.

The U.S. Patriot Act requires HazMat haulers to submit fingerprints and obtain security clearance from the TSA before they can be issued a renewed CDL with a HazMat endorsement. Public comment on the changes contained within the Act was requested by the TSA.

In addition to privacy concerns, OOIDA also expressed its displeasure with some other issues. These included:

Foreign drivers – Changes proposed by TSA would allow certain foreign citizens who are qualified to hold CDLs to apply for security threat assessments. OOIDA strongly opposes the change.

"The only reasons set forth in the (interim final rule) are that these persons are legally allowed to work in the United States, that they have properly obtained a CDL and that the trucking industry is in search of cheap labour," OOIDA said in its comments. "None of these reasons bear on the risk that this population may pose to homeland security."

"How will TSA know whether that person committed crimes or acts in their country of origin that would disqualify them from holding an HME? This is the kind of advantage a terrorist would try to exploit."

In addition, OOIDA pointed out that the rule would allow non-citizens whose backgrounds could not be checked to qualify for jobs when U.S. citizens would be required to have their backgrounds examined. That, OOIDA contends, provides those foreign drivers a "competitive advantage."

Firearms – Another change would disqualify a driver from receiving a hazmat endorsement if that driver engaged in the "unlawful purchase, receipt, transfer, shipping, transporting, import, export and storage of a firearm or explosives," according to a notice on the DOT Web site.

In the association’s written comments, OOIDA officials said they were concerned because of inconsistencies between the states; a trucker who was acting lawfully in his home state could be disqualified in another.

"OOIDA does not ask the TSA to condone the violations of state or local firearms laws," stated OOIDA’s written comments. "But if an individual has all the proper permits and licenses in their home state or locality for a firearm, but is found not in compliance when traveling through another state or locality, this fact does not indicate that the person is a terrorist threat."

The group also pointed out previous cases in which truckers possessed items that would not normally be considered weapons, but which led to potential legal problems.

For example, the association pointed to the case of an OOIDA member who was arrested in Michigan and charged with possession of a deadly weapon for having a hunting knife in his cab.

Another OOIDA member was arrested because he was carrying a flare gun. That truck driver was also told by a police officer that the claw hammer he carried under his seat could be considered a deadly weapon.

"OOIDA urges the TSA to narrow the definition of this disqualifying offense to more accurately identify the type of violent or deceptive wrongdoer that TSA considers a terrorist threat," OOIDA officials wrote.

To see the interim final rule, go to http://dmses.dot.gov/docimages/p79/307543.pdf on the Web.

To view the complete text of OOIDA’s comments on the latest changes, go to http://www.ooida.com/at_issue/Homeland_security_concerns/Hazmat_comments.pdf on the Web.

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