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. Trishia Jacobs

    Mallory Simon, SHAME ON YOU! You are a part of the media circus that you write about and you are guilty of one of the worst writing tricks: taking a fellow CNN's writer's words and using them to mean EXACTLY the opposite. Bob Green's editorial you quote from - the very next line is this:
    Would you feel safe? Would you want to live in such a country?
    You did, if you were a citizen of the United States before the 1970s.

    YES, air travel has always been the safest means of transportation. It was before 9/11 and it still is even now. The only difference between then and now is that now we have to check our bags and our dignity, not to mention our 4th Amendment rights.
    Instead of writing such a drivel piece as this, why not find out what the truth is. That's what journalism used to be about! Get on a plane and travel then a dozen or so US airports and find out first hand. Or should I say, first grope?
    Here's a few things I'd like to know: How is 'randomly' selected done? Computer generated? What's the model: one in 10 or what? How about First Class passengers? What's the rate of randomly selected for them compared to us in economy class? I'd like to know if TSA agents do some of their own profiling: how many fat people get pat downs compared to pretty, buxom women?
    And one other thing I'd really like to hear from some investigation source, a recognized news outlet , is this: is it true that a Blue Cross insurance exec actually had his pants unzipped by a TSA employee?

    November 23, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. smc

    We live in a country where the government is warrantlessly wiretapping our personal information, and we ignore that. But heaven help us if occasionally for 10 seconds people see a fuzzy, half xray picture of us or bump our "junk" in the process of safety for a private business transaction they told you about in advance.

    I'd say our priorities and understanding of our rights are completely screwed up.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    If I allowed people to take a ride on my 200 million dollar aircraft I would require them to be stripped naked and x-rayed first. If you didn't like my policy I would encourage you to take a flying you know what at a rolling doughnut.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeepers

      Perv.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      I can see years from now, TSA survivor groups springing. I can't imagine how a parent can even begin to explain to a child how they allowed their child to be groped and fondled by a stranger while they stood by doing nothing.
      The same way the CIA redefined what it legally means to be tortured, the TSA has redefined what it legally means to assaulted.
      I'm sure there are people now that have to register as child predators who's actions were far less offensive than what the TSA is currently performing. Perhaps with the new standard TSA has set, these predators records will need to be expunged.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. stagger lee

    The terrorists are laughing their ass off at us. They have figured out ways to blow up cargo planes over cities, surgically implant bombs in dogs, and have already shoved C4 up one guy's butt. And we're still worried about somebody carrying explosives in their underwear? We are so far behind the terrorists it would be laughable, if it weren't so frightening. Admit it, they are smarter and more innovative than we are because, as someone aptly said, they are in it for their Prophet, and we are in it for our profit. I am embarrassed for our Idiocracy. And you idiots so willing to trade in freedom for a false notion of security are a disgrace to the principles on which this nation was founded.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maryann

      EXACTLY!!!!

      November 23, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dan

    Are we safer than pre 9/11 with all this nonsense? I doubt it. Pre 9/11 there was a metal detector at every gate and an interested gate agent – right now if you can get past one secure check point you have free run of the airport. If we'd focus on figuring out "who" is on the plane 1/2 as much as "what' get's past one security check – we'd be far safer. At what point do we trade security and freedom. My opinion , we gave it up when we started taking our shoes off, when we let all of our cell phones be tapped, when we decided a fluke crime committed by a small band of malcontents was worth turning the world and 200 years of good will upside down for. All I am saying, is give peace a chance.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      You got it right Dan the man!!!!

      November 23, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MrNobody

    Do all of you that are saying.... Don't fly and keep me safe....
    What makes you safe at the gate or on the security line??? They can do it right there at the security scanner.... They can even make it so the bombe explodes once it gets xrayed or the person is patted down and touches it.... you no safer and you still dead.... Nothing was solved execept you just gave up your rights.... It stops nothing!!!!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maryann

      Thank you! Excellent point. I wonder what the procedure actually is when and IF the TSA finds something on someone?? I'm sure they have no problem becoming a martyr and taking part of the TSA and 'safe' Americans with them.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phinius

      "you just gave up your rights."

      You (the public or most of them anyway) gave them up with the Patriot Acts, the creation of the TSA and it's subsequent roll up under Homeland Security. When these machines were being rolled out in 2005 where was your all your outrage, angst and wringing of hands then? When Chertoff declared these machines would have caught the underwear bombers explosives in Dec 2009 if the Obama admin had installed them where was your rebuttal that they would not have?

      sheep.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ane

    It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if it's only a small percentage of people who are forced to endure the pat downs and it's also a small percentage of the public who are against the pat downs and scanners that it is likely close to 100 percent of those people who have been affected by the intrusive security measures that object. Why bother polling travelers who have never had to anything other than take their shoes off and walk thru the metal detector, of course they are not going to object it's not happening to them.

    I have a prosthetic leg and believe me it is no picnic. I have been swabbed, patted, groped, had the peep show scan and actually had to remove my prosthetic leg that was then placed on the conveyor belt with all the purses and laptops in front of gobsmacked onlookers. Humiliating does not even begin to cover it. Do I look like a terrorist, not likely I am an overweight middle aged housewife traveling with my husband and kid.
    I always security ahead of stepping thru the detector that I have a prosthetic leg and will set the alarm off, but each time it's like they have personally caught Bin Laden. It's the beginning of a sometimes 15-20 minute process before they reluctantly release me. I cannot travel alone because I need someone to take charge of my belongings that are by now piled up at the end of the conveyor belt. Security does not care that I may be 100 ft way undergoing explosive swabbing while my purse is sitting back at security where people are just grabbing bags and leaving.

    I actually do believe in increased security but give me a break, if you are only going to actually scan or pat down a small percentage of the population generally those with prosthetics etc well you are not really securing anything it's all just a big show. And there should be no surprise that there is only a small percentage of the public that objects, they are the poor sods who have to go thru it. If you want the poll to accurately portray what people think of the extra security measures, make sure you ask only those who were actually subjected to it.

    If they want to be taken seriously they really need to be scanning or patting down every single person, why on earth would they leave it up to a security guard with questionable skills or education to decide who looks sketchy, which is exactly what is happening according to the above article.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Me

    By the reasoning of many of the people posting here we should also install full-body searches and nude imaging outside malls, restaurants, and any other place crimes have taken place. Because, wouldn't you rather be safe than have that tiny chance a man armed with a knife went in and massacred a dozen people? Follow your logic out to its conclusion, People. If you trade your civil rights for a little bit of safety then you deserve neither civil rights nor safety. The *only* thing we have left to add at airport security are cavity searches. How many of you, when a woman boards a plane from Germany with explosives inside of her will consent to having cavity searches in response? Because, that is the logical next step. Think things through and stop reacting with fear. We live in a world where bad things happen. That is no reason to destroy our liberty.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tom

    TSA loves to point out only a few people out of millions have complained to them directly. Of course, directly to them implies they filed a formal complaint though the proper channels they provide all the while reassuring us there will be no retribution by being targeted on some secret no fly list.
    reminds me of a story i read once about a city where crime rates reportedly fell. It wasn't because crime lessened, it was because the people got so feed up with an ineffective and non responsive police force they simply didn't bother wasting their time reporting crime. So reported crime fell and this ineffective agency taunted it as a win.
    TSA, stop wasting our time defending your actions with useless and trivial data.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Eldon

    we all need to stop flying and let the planes go under stop air traffic period

    November 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ttk6645

    I wonder how those TSA agents feel patting down so many nasty ass people. I feel for them.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ralph s

    The outrage is how this story is blowing up! check how this article starts: "growing vocal anger" NOT TRUE!!!
    Those who are angry are a small minority (around 15%) and you are giving them the top of the page instead of covering real news! People are actually angry of bad journalism. That is unfortunately what CNN is becoming! Go back to covering interesting stories, real reports, the koreas are about to go to war and all you care about are bunch of prudes who are refusing in the first place to be properly scanned for the safety of ALL!!!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. 16d Nail

    Israel has NEVER had an instance of terrorists getting aboard one of their planes. They don't use scanners, they don't pat-down, or any of that. You know what they do?? They PROFILE. Why? Because it works. And it works very well. Why doesn't our stupid government stop spending countless billions on this ridiculous waste of resources, not to mention our time at the airport, and quit being afraid of not being "PC", and do something RIGHT for a change??!!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Exactly what I said and what we really need to do!!!!

      November 23, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. john

    please stop with all of the polling data... who cares if 81% of the people polled approve the xray? how many of those people actually fly? (and fly on a regular basis??)

    it's one thing to assess public support of policies that impact the population at large, but it's another to gather public opinion on topics that dont impact the large majority of them.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Maryann

    I am calling BS on blaming the media. I was completely against this enhanced screening when it first started, and the media was not giving it ANY ATTENTION AT ALL! Now they're finally on the bandwagon of those who do not want to give up liberty for security.

    And – if they're so worried about keeping us safe, what about our trains, busses and ports?? It's not like the terrorists don't attack busses or trains – look at Madrid, Israel, London.....where is the 'protection' there? Could the government not get kickbacks from a corporation that makes scanners for train stations?

    November 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phinius

      Good post Maryann. No one wanted to write or hear about loss of civil rights and the invasion of
      privacy two, three or five years ago. Back then that got one accused of having sympathy for the
      terrorists.

      But now the media aren't on any bandwagon. Now they're being led along by a ring in thier noses.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
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