November 23rd, 2010
12:06 PM ET

TSA complaints: Warranted outrage? Or all bark, no bite?

In recent weeks there has been growing vocal anger regarding the Transportation Security Administration's procedures relating to pat downs and the use of full-body scanners. But amid all of the noise, what are the real complaints, and how much of the outrage is simply that - a growing chorus of bandwagon anger.

There certainly has been no shortage of horror stories - a shirtless boy receiving a pat down,  a flier had to show her prosthetic breast, a bladder cancer survivor whose urine bag broke during a pat down - and countless other stories of uncomfortable encounters with the TSA.

The coverage of the isolated incidents being reported raises the question of whether they paint a picture that isn't the reality for the vast majority of travelers.

The concerns: Fact vs. fiction

Polls have found a majority of Americans support the scans, though they aren't as supportive of the TSA pat downs.

A CBS News survey showed 81 percent of people polled approve of the use of full-body X-ray machines. A Washington Post/ABC News survey found 64 percent of people supported the use of the machines, while 32 percent were opposed. When it comes to the use of pat downs, respondents were practically split down the middle.  However, 37 percent of all Americans said they "feel strongly" that the pat downs are overly intrusive. Still 70 percent of Americans questioned in the Washington Post/ABC News poll said the new TSA rules made no difference in their decision to fly.

Our partners at Time.com, who are taking a look at the TSA procedures, report that the head of the agency John Pistole has said the outcry has partially been fueled by media-fed misperceptions.  He said that only a “very small percentage” of the 34 million Americans who have flown since the new procedures took effect have been subjected to the pat downs.

Politico: Go ahead, touch my junk

The TSA even released a list of "myths and facts" about pat downs and other security measures.

No doubt passengers still have some concerns. What about their 4th amendment rights? Are the scanners safe? Do they even work? Can they actually stop terror attacks? How far is too far when it comes to a pat down? What are the medical implications of the procedures? And who exactly should be getting the pat downs?

For some, it’s a question of  pat down or blown up?

BusinessInsider.com: Sorry, Folks, We'd Rather Be Body-Scanned Than Blown Up In Mid-Air

"It wouldn't be a total oversimplification to boil the issue down to a single question: would you rather get screened or blown up," Time.com's Sora Song wrote. "The new TSA whole-body scanning machines are designed to catch potentially deadly threats — like, say, explosive chemicals in underwear — that metal detectors miss. The end result should be a safer flight. It's a no-brainer."

For all those complaining about the security check hassles, CNN contributor Bob Greene asks, would you rather have no security at all?

"You can walk into any airport, with or without a ticket, and wander unimpeded right up to a boarding gate. You don't have to surreptitiously slip past a security checkpoint, because there are no security checkpoints, " he said. ""If you are carrying a loaded gun in your pocket or underneath your jacket, no one will know. In fact, if you do have a valid ticket, there will be nothing to prevent you from boarding a flight while armed to the teeth with concealed weaponry."

"Would you feel safe? Would you want to live in such a country?," he adds.

"You did, if you were a citizen of the United States before the 1970s."

Why all the hoopla?

The firestorm has only grown as close-up photos of the pat downs grace newspaper and website front pages, while the mockery has only grown on late night talk shows, "Saturday Night Live" and YouTube.

And let's not leave the press out of it. Howard Kurtz, writing for the Daily Beast, agrees in part with Pistole that the media are certainly part of the blame.

"From network newscasts to local TV, from newspaper front pages to a blur of web headlines, it seems untold numbers of women are having their breasts touched and untold numbers of men are feeling the intrusive hands of government guards near their packages," he writes. "Actually, that’s far from true."

And when it comes down to it, Kurtz said, part of the media attention is due to how easy the story is to tell - and that it has all the makings of the perfect press story.

"The narrative combines a number of elements: Hassled airline passengers (who can’t relate to that?); terrorism concerns; invasion of privacy, and a hint of sexual naughtiness," he said. "But the key here is that every local news outlet in America could send a reporter or a crew to a nearby airport and grab a piece of the action."

Then there's the whole "National Opt-Out Day" issue. It could either, as some organizations suggest, delay flights or completely fizzle out. As Time.com points out, it might just turn into a "More Like Opting Out Of Making Your Flight" scenario?

In reality, we ask: Will this idea turn out to be of "Get Betty White on 'SNL'" Facebook campaign success? Or will people who have likely paid a chunk of money to go visit their families take the time to engage in an act of civil disobedience and disrupt air travel?
Perhaps, it's just (pun-intended) all up in the air for now.
soundoff (1,704 Responses)
  1. E_V

    The patriots that fought the American Revolution – average citizens with nothing more than the arms they happened to own at the time and no training yet took on the strongest empire of the time's trained militia – are spinning in their graves like tops. I wonder if they would choose to make the same sacrifices again if they knew how quickly people today would put a match to those hard won rights just to feel "safe". I guarantee you those patriots and their families were not safe when they were fighting for those rights. And yet, you're not willing to risk the very minute chance you may be on a flight with a terrorist in order to simply see those rights upheld. Cowards.
    But, who cares if you "patriots" feel a little happier on your way to another Vegas buffet.

    November 23, 2010 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. CC

    Wait a month or two and then poll frequent flyers vs. people that only fly on Thanksgiving/Christmas every few years. I'd be interested to see how the numbers turn out. Those of us that fly often do what we can to tune out the increasing annoyances and discomforts associated with flying. We are more likely to be offended by infrequent flyers crushing our knees with reclining seats and bringing smelly food on board increasingly cramped plane cabins than anything a TSA agent could do to us. By Black Friday these message boards will be filled with people ranting about rude shoppers and the guy in the Chevy Tahoe that violates their civil rights by taking up 2 spaces at the mall and the next media-driven public outcry will be born. Anyone else experiencing outrage fatigue?

    November 24, 2010 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
  3. kevin

    Look CNN... this is an abomination and even you know it. Viewing people naked is way to far and that needs to stop. Find a better way.

    November 24, 2010 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
  4. Troy from S'port

    I always save up a good fart for when I get patted down; that really speeds up the process.

    November 24, 2010 at 2:32 am | Report abuse |
  5. JoeY

    All terrorists are Muslims? Tell that to all of the families of the people murdered over the decades by the Irish Republican Army.

    When people have to lie to make a point, their point is not valid.

    November 24, 2010 at 3:16 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jay

    TSA is a gigantic joke. Everybody can see it. It is closing the barn door after the horse is out. The complaints and visibility they have drawn in recent weeks is ENTIRELY justified and we as a country need to take a close look at this agency and truly evaluate its usefulness. The amount of money and time that TSA costs is enormous, and provides, at best, only marginal gains in overall safety. Just sad.

    November 24, 2010 at 3:43 am | Report abuse |
  7. Mark Wallace

    The new procedures cannot detect bombs hidden inside the rectum. Hence, they are a total waste of time against expert terrorists. (They might catch an untrained amateur or copycat.) TSA acts as though the only goal of al-Qaeda is to bring down airplanes in flight. Fundamentally wrong. They did that already. They don't even care, at this stage of their campaign, about causing mass death. If they did, they could easily send pipe bombers to slaughter any massed group, such as at a sports stadium, shopping mall, or waiting in line to be scanned at an airport. The lines are much more vulnerable than the airplanes. TSA is fighting yesterday's war. But, the actual goal is to enlist the U.S. government as their ally in the humiliation and subjugation of the American people. That way, when Islam takes over, we will already have learned the proper behavior (submission) in response to their conquest.

    November 24, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  8. FED Up

    Oh say can you see, by the flash of the scan?
    What so cowardly we fail at the TSA's last feeling.
    Who's broad hands and long wands to the hazardous flight
    O'er the rapists we watch'd, while the tears are still streaming,
    and the rockets prepared, the sperm bursting in air,
    Gave proof through the night, that TSA was still there,
    Oh say does that long dangled Stag yet wave,
    O'er the land of the seized, and the home of the caved?

    December 12, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Barry

    CNN is smart enough to know that the michael chertoff, john pistole money grab scandal will do serious damage to the obama administration so you are trying to downplay the seriousness of what going on at TSA.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Andy

    TSA competence and common sense
    2005 returning with my unit from Iraq all 150 soldiers are carrying m4, m240b, m870 remingtons, m9 pistols and when we switched airports from Mcquire to the one in New Jersey we had to go through TSA inspection and we had to remove our boots, but nevermind the weapons or the fact that we are US soldiers returning from actually fighting the terrorists!
    I am 6'2" blond hair blue eyed and I get picked for path down every time: and I ask: "were any of the hijackers blue eyed blond haired, high and tight wearing mofos?"
    Regarding the other comments on IRA, Basque etc none attacked the US so I can care less, as far as McVeigh goes he was home grown and was not part of a group of a few billion that swear to the distruction of the USA!
    So if it comes from and apple tree, you make apple sauce out of it then by God it is an apple! so pick on habib and when the good habib get tired of getting picked on then they, hopefully if they are smart, go back to muj land and clean out all the fanatics because they are tired of getting picked on!
    As far as the TSA goes as an agency it is a huge waste of resources! However we live in such a politically correct society that we forgot what it is like to fight a war! if Patton were alive he would have leveled Afghanistan and would have asked the ahabs: Who wants to be next?........they would have fallen in place or..........meet the virgins!.......because if anybody follows the news that is all they know.......they respect fear and that is it!

    June 28, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joseph

    I changed planes in Phoenix this week. It was my first time with the full body scanner. I didn't realize you were required to take EVERYTHING out of your pockets. I just took out my keys, change and other metal items. When I cam through they took me aside and asked what was in my back pocket. It was my passport and boarding pass. I showed it to the Agent, who proceeded to yell at me in a language that didn't even sound like English.

    He told me that since I hadn't completely emptied my pockets as instructed (never saw or heard the instructions), I had to be patted down. He was loud, agressive and nasty the entire time, lecturing me about having my passport and boarding pass in my pocket. He also found a wad of dollar bills in my other pocket and took those from me and sent them off with another employee.

    It would have been nice to receive complete instructions before getting into that area. It would also be nice if the TSA employee had spoken clear and understandable English and had not started yelling at me and making me into a public example. I have to do my job without humiliating and yelling at people, they should do the same.

    October 18, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. BB

    Who would have guessed that when you hire unskilled, low level, young, hourly employees and tell them that they can do whatever they want (and not to take any guff from anyone), bad decisions would be the result? They overreact to virtually everything, and lack the reasoning ability and intelligence to separate real threats from arbitrary policies. This bunch of mo-rons is making the country safer?

    January 23, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
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