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. Nancy A

    Is there a possibility that they could tone down the resolution on the machines and use bomb sniffing dogs to check for explosives? I grew up with dogs and would prefer a dog sniffing to check me out instead of a stranger's hands. Hey, just a thought!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. April

    IF THIS WAS TAKING PLACE BEFORE 9/11...YES...I'D BE PRETTY UPSET.

    HAS EVERYONE FORGOTTEN WHAT TOOK PLACE....OHHHH....ON THAT DATE September 11th, 2001?!!

    This is THE PROBLEM WITH SO MANY AMERICANS (yes, I am one)....FORGETTING, TAKING THINGS FOR GRANTED, "OH GEEZ! IT WILL TAKE UP ALLLL OF MY TIME!"

    Too damned bad! DO NOT FLY, THEN. Send a card. Use SKYPE! Give your relatives a PHONE CALL. Whatever.

    I knew ppl in those towers. I WOULDN'T MIND IF THEY WANTED TO STRIP SEARCH ME SO LONG AS I KNEW THEY WERE DOING THE "PAT DOWNS" FOR A DAMNED GOOD REASON. And they are.

    I'd much rather have them "feel me up" than find out an hour into a flight that someone had SOMETHING, ANYTHING, that could make the plane I was on go POOF. I have a family to come home to. GET OVER IT ALL OF YOU SPOILED ROTTEN BRATS.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • lisa

      FINALLY – someone who thinks like me.......I'm with you 110%.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Freedom will be lost to the sound of thunderous applause from bad people.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fallout

      Damn right! You tell 'em, April 🙂

      November 23, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • D

      Restricted/banned items get on airplanes all the time. If you think they are catching every "dangerous" object that goes through security, you are mistaken. At some point, you have to swallow the risk and just pray for a safe journey – once you step onto a plane, the situation is out of your hands.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nathan Bush

      Well put! But I do agree with some of the people here about CNN's ways of newscasting...they are way too dramatic about it...I bet some of the anchors are thinking "God that was over the top..." when they are smiling at the cameras after reciting a news article...and hiring Nancy Grace only made it worse...

      November 23, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • TRH

      April,

      They're not doing it for a good reason. Why? Because anyone who wants to get past these efforts can just insert the device inside of them.

      Are you willing to stand in line while 100% of the passengers get rectally examined?

      Anything short of that is just smoke and mirrors to make people FEEL safer.

      For that matter, they could have a device surgically implanted into their chest. All set to be triggered from a signal from their trusty iPhone. They claim to have recently had bypass surgery.

      Are you willing to repeal the medical privacy laws so each and every person has to submit their full medical records in order to demonstrate no recent procedures?

      Where do YOU draw the line?

      I draw it at being seen naked and physically touched and BILLIONS of dollars being spent to do it. Billions that could be going to the homeless, medical research, food pantries. Want to END hunger in this country? Throw the TSA budget at it.

      I'm sorry you're afraid. But these measures, and expenses are NOT the solution.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Denizen Kate

      April, ease up on the caps lock and stop shouting.

      If you think TSA's methods are actually protecting anyone, I have two words for you: knitting needles.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Nick

    People need to seriously grow up. I know that the country is only a few hundred years old, but we would do well to get some of that ancient civilization calmness regarding our place in the world, and exactly how important we are (we're not). Applied to this, I would rather EVERY plane passenger be searched, than have to explain to Mommy Jane why her son got blown up on the way back from his Little League Championship, because security was lessened. I will happily go through ANY amount of security, to prevent that from happening again. Why? Because I am not important to the whole of our society, and certainly not MORE important than the infant with the rest of their lives to live. I know some of you hate socialism and all that, but thinking about someone other than yourself and what miniscule thing you can be angry about today would do a world of good to your overall life and your blood pressure specifically.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      In certain cities in Europe they search the body cavities at the airport back in the 80's. Random men and women would be randomly asked to step behind a screen, asked to drop their pants and spread their legs. The airline agent then probed them with a gloved finger. It is done to find illegal substances like drugs. And it is done in the name of safety. If we are truly concerned about our safety, then I guess we can expect America following these security measures in the next 10 years because terrorists have already moved on to hiding weapons and liquids inside of themselves. You can be the first in line since you are so concerned with your safety.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • DC

      ...but every passenger is not searched. They keep making more and more exceptions to the rule, pilots, air crew, government officials. And, since I have not been able to confirm as yet, I think they have secretly made an exception to muslim women wearing whatever garb it is they wear.... The TSA (government) is not telling anyone the skinny on this.

      November 29, 2010 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
  4. Sevr4

    Ok I am going out on a limb here.

    100 % of the hijackers were Mid-East men. Why do we perform extensive searches on little old ladys.
    I am so sick and tired of the politcal correct BS.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. DavidK

    Wasn't the underwear bomber's flight for which all these additional security measures designed for originate from Europe? What's the point?

    November 23, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MDDon

    I have had a new pat down twice. It is slightly more intrusive than the previous version, but in both my cases it was very professionally done and much preferable to having the plane blow up if that is the alternative (not sure about that.) There are always isolated incidents of poor judgment on the part of the TSA official, but that is true in every business, especially in dealing with the public. I can imagine it gets pretty challenging to deal with complaining travelers for hours on end. In balance I think TSA does a pretty good job. As I recall this job was given to Homeland Security because of deep dissatisfaction with poor performance by private contractors. Now we want to go back to them?

    November 23, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ANNIE

    People why are we still on this topic? Would you rather be uncomfortable or dead? Are you really weighing your options here? Airport security is in place to protrct you and my family. If you dont like it take the bus or the train, walk, drive. People are way out of line . Do you remember 911? Do you think that less invasive tatics will reall help keep us safe? Come on America wake up and quit giving into the mionority!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bic Pentameter

      That's right keep on eating up whatever the gvt tells you is making you safer. Heck, why not have scanners at every road intersection with a cop to test your blood alcohol level while you are at it. I mean, if its the difference between getting where you are going safely and being in a car accident and possibly getting injured or killed, isnt' it worth it? After all, your odds of dying in a car accident are hundreds or thousands of times higher than in a terrorist incident on a plane even if we reverted to pre 9/11 security. The odds of you getting cancer from being scanned is about the same risk of you dying in a terrorist attack! Go ahead, let the TSA bombard you with radiation or grope you, you are not any safer, you are just less free.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Neal

      Profiling is much less invasive and IT WORKS. It's been working in Israel and they haven't had an "incident" since 2002! The difference is that the Israelis are looking for BOMBERS and the TSA is looking for BOMBS.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really?

      You ARE an idiot.
      A few things.
      1) Driving is more dangerous than flying. Drunk Drivers, Sleepy Drivers, Cell Phones, Texting, etc. Cell Phones are allowed in most states still, and cause more deaths THAN BOMBS ON PLANES EVER have.
      2) How many planes have EVER blown up in mid air because of a bomb. I'll tell you here:
      Reading through this myself,
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_accidents_and_incidents_involving_commercial_aircraft
      20 Times explosives have been used on flights. 3 times, nothing happened. Failed explosives, or explosives not intended on destroying the plane. I'm not perfect, and may have missed 1 or 2. Only twice in the last decade, this is "normal" compared to other decades.

      Interesting facts to note.
      -The VAST majority of these occur OUTSIDE of the US. I think only 4 incidents of bombs and planes blowing up mid air. One of which occurred in 1933!!! over 70 years ago does not mentally worry me about today.
      -You have a better chance of being shot down either mistakenly, or purposely. Never inside US borders.

      My point: you, lady, are fine. Your children are fine. EVERYONE traveling INSIDE the US is fine.

      I'm not really against security, but everyone needs to just CHILL out and not freak out so much. Airplanes have been blown up since the 30s. Just because media travels faster and easier in this day in age does NOT mean the world is more dangerous. just RELAX.

      Relax, and realize that the second head of Homeland Security is now a VERY rich man because of these. Open your eyes. Inside contracting occurs here all the way down to the meals our soldiers eat over in Iraq. Politicians and Gov't officials get rich off of our tax dollars. What's messed up is these guys get rich off scaring all you idiots out there about some fanatic bombing an airplane IN RUSSIA or LIBYA, where they're NOT using these scanners, and probably never will. BOMBINGS around the world will STILL occur. as some would put it. Wake up and smell the roses.

      FYI the airplane to explode because of a bomb over us soil was 1962.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Me

    The choice between being imaged in the nude or undergoing a full-body search is not a choice. Either way it is a complete violation of our 4th Ammendment right against unwarranted search and seizure. Right now we are all being treated as criminals simply because we have bought airline tickets. That is exactly the kind of behavior on the part of the British army that led to the American Revolution. And, here we are carelessly throwing the Bill of Rights to the wayside. If you are fine with having your 4th Ammendment right removed from you, then you didn't deserve it anyway.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Have you thought about the fact that you have the right to not be searched? You can exercise this right by not flying. Flying is not a right. It's a privilege. Ask anyone who cannot afford a plane ticket. Having everything be convenient for you is not a right. I'd say the government (that means the TSA) looking out for our greater good is a good thing.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. conradshull

    Few notions are a stupid as the one that it's impossible to know what a terrorist looks like. We need Israeli designed airport security that has intelligent and real "security" as it's primary focus, not fuzzy headed "fairness".

    November 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeepers

      So true. It definitely doesn't look like the little shirtless boy or the old lady whose back fat rolls they stuck their fingers into. And they aren't even checking everyone anyway so that right there negates the "do you want to get blown up" argument. It's ridiculous. I wouldn't feel safer because they patted down my toddler. I would feel like the people doing it are obviously morons.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Greg

    Let me get this straight, the government is backing a strip search or intrusive pat down, but asking a person to prove his citizenship is not OK?????

    November 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • lay leno

      the new airport scanners will help airport officals identify wich passengers requuire a kosher meal

      November 23, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. John

    People in America need to quit focusing on their "rights" and recognize two things I like to call "the greater good" and "community responsibility". You'd never hear of people in any country in Europe protesting this sort of thing.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • DC

      the great USA also didn't listen when Hitler was invading europe either....

      November 29, 2010 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
  12. Steve

    Here is a question has TSA ever found an explosive item and arrested anyone before they got on the airplane???

    November 23, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Phinius

    This is an orchestrated campaign to tear down the TSA and they chose this travel time for the greatest impact on the
    public.

    Brian Sodergren, the National Opt-Out Day's online organizer, created his Opt Out website almost a week before the Tyner "touch my Junk" video is uploaded to Youtube and which is only two days before Breitbart (remember those folks? the ones who fabricate and edit videos to suit their neo-con agenda) posts their "breaking" interview with him about his torrid experience.
    Drudge and Fauxnews then pick up the hysteria baton and have the video go "viral in little more than a couple of days.
    Less than 48 hours later GOP congressman from Florida and Texas chime in with legislation proposals which IMO is the
    start of the "official" GOP effort to privatize the TSA. Goal? Give mucho contract $$$ to Blackwater type, private
    security firms. They milked the TSA cow (which they created!) for all theycould get over the past seven years and now there's more to be gained by privatizing it.
    First the TSA 'godfather and architect John Mica encourages airports to Opt Out. A day later he comes out with his cry
    for privatization. Well isn't Mica the head Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. When
    the new Congress convenes in January he will lead the committee and of course then he can start paying back his
    benefactors the private security companies. The folks who stand to benefit from privatization and who also happen to
    be very generous contributors to his re-election campaign. Then Ron Paul has his bill hit the blogs by p.m of 11/17 to add fuel to the fire to neuter and bring down the TSA.
    Most of the press and media go along for the ride reflecting the sad lack of investigative reporting in journalism
    today This charade would be obvious to any who want to ask the question "why," who would take the time to check the
    timelines of events back to approx 2005 and who seeks to follows the money.
    What a wonderful Thanksgiving to hand to the traveling American people. Don't blame the TSA. It's what YOU people (the American voters) created by enabling the Republican machine to whip up and force on us a decade of fear.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • dcs

      Thank you Bush, and Cheney and their gang members, for screwing the US citizen for the last 8 years, and the next 100 years.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • ChipH

      Why is the USA the only country in the world with a DHS/TSA, and the only country in the world with foreign colonies,
      and the only country in the world running a ONE TRILLION DOLLAR A YEAR Defense welfare program for Mil.Gov drones?
      Hold that thought, and bend over ... this nice man wants to touch your privates.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. John Smitty

    People need to realize that they are NOT important when it comes to safety. Get over yourselves. Stop thinking that your opinion matters. I'd rather be safe than have you happy.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      I'd rather be free than to give up my freedom in your misguided pursuit of a false sense of security.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ray

    Well said April

    November 23, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54