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. Shaun

    "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." Ben Franklin

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

      Amen Shaun! That's right, a founding father smacking down people who support TSA's outrageous policy.

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

      Its not liberty when you have to make the choice to fly, you enter into a contract with the airline saying you must meet their terms in order to fly, if you don't like it, there are plenty of seats aboard amtrak

      November 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shaun

      The airlines aren't making these rules.. TSA is. TSA is part of our government which the people are supposed to control.

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

      Mike will give up his liberty to fly because he's been convinced he never had liberty in the first place.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Mike: The airlines aren't the ones imposing these ridiculous constraints. This is being imposed on them just as much as it is being imposed on us.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sophia

    Well, I think that it is more than the "wanna be safe or dead?" issue... We have gone to great lengths to prove what a great country we are, and NOW, we are going to irradiate our citizens, take away their dignity, and teach children... "Oh yes, it's ok if someone fondles you, as long as they are in an airport and wear a uniform."

    Where is the right to the pursuit of happiness gone in this country? There seems to be some idiot trying to block that right at all turns.

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

      Hey Sophia, read Ben Franklin's quote above your comment. He's talking about people like you.

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

      Sorry I misread your message. It's not a wanna be safe or dead issue, though. It's a matter of who will invade your space and take away your rights. This is expected of terrorists. It's irreversible when government is the perpetrator instead.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • cloudcroftkid1

      Very GOOD POST !

      November 23, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sickofthiswhining

      Wah. Then don't fly and your rights will be preserved. Simple.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Chas

    It is all overblown. I travel frequently and have been treated with the utmost respect and courtesy by TSA staff.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • cloudcroftkid1

      The TSA is he biggest joke in the country.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Only in america do you have to pay top doloar to be molested

    How reassuring it is to hear the thoughts of a former TSA security consultant. lol this is unbiased news? what a joke CNN is

    November 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. MM

    I am a muslim and frankly have no issues when I am randomly selected for either screening or pat downs or both. Fact is that there are just too many crazy barbarians out there. I frequently travel for business and except for an occasion or two have found the security personnel to be very professional. Maybe the process can be made more efficient. I am all for profiling cause maybe that is what a proper risk based approach should be like (just my opinion, I am no security expert). You don't need to ask a non-muslim to step aside for these checks just to make me feel better. I live in a real awesome country and am willing to take some pains for our own security and freedom.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anti-Zealot

      MM: Why don't more muslims like you speak out against the terrorist extremists who profess to act in adherence to your faith? Why doesn't the muslim majority coalesce around a peaceful end to jihadist terrorism worldwide? Why is it so difficult to root out terrorism in countries that are supposedly out allies? There will always be crazy people in the world. But it would go a go a long way toward solving these issues if the muslims in a neighborhood near you rallied against and even rooted out those who harbor ill-will toward this country. Force them out of our back-yards! Give them no where to hide. I think many people believe that many/most/all muslims secretly support al-qaeda and would side with them against the US if push came to shove. The lack of a visible, organized and vocal opposition to muslim terrorism from the muslims themselves only reinforces this prejudice.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • MM

      Anti-Zealot – good points to which I am not sure what the right answer is. I am originally from Pakistan and while most muslims there are peace-loving they are also very scared. Speaking out against the extremists will only lead to violence against you. The law & order situation over there is such that one doesn't feel being protected at all.
      However, in the US, there should be a group/forum where muslims like myself should openly speak against the extremists. Not sure even that will make any difference but yes we should speak out. I cannot speak for others but there is nothing more I would like than return to normalcy for ME and AfPak region.
      I am as much to be blamed as any other US muslim for not speaking out. Maybe it is because I am kinda lazy and between work and pleasure don't really think about whether I should participate in rallies against extremism or set up a council or something like that. I guess I have fallen in love with the American life – earn $$, pay bills and get back to work again to pay more bills and taxes 🙂

      November 23, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Russell

    Of course, the controversy is overblown. News media needs something to stir us up about. We probably need to be stirred up about it anyway, but this is just like anything else: Americans will once again fall in line and do whatever the government tells us to. We are a nation of sheep. baaaaaaaaaa!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Matt

    It's also worth noting that 81% of america probably hasn't even been in an airport since these new measures were implemented. The issue is really how many "isolated incidents" there are. Even if I don't care if a person sees me naked in a room far away via the xray machine, there are lots and lots of people who do. Think of the untold number of abuse victims who might equate the pat down or the xray to the experience(s) they've had, and be newly traumatized by the experience. This process isn't fair to them. Same with folks who undergo psychological therapy for body issues and are incredibly self-conscious about their appearance.

    All in all, I'm not going to argue that these tactics violate the 4th amendment, or that I personally am outraged. However, I can forsee far too many people whose rights it really does violate, and how the TSA agents have the ability to abuse their newfound power. There must be better ways to ensure safety without causing this outrage. People are willing to put up with an awful lot when it doesn't violate their right to privacy. It's up to the TSA and the government to better balance the need to feel safe (since that really is all I think these procedures do) with the inalienable right to privacy.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • sarah

      I agree with you... and its just like the breast cancer survivor having to remove her prostetic breats.. or the bladder cancer survivor who TOLD them he had a bag because of cancer.. and they didnt believe him, and squeezed the bag and got pee all over him.. How was THAT allowed.. and how where they not punished. I believe in trying to keep the country safe.. But isnt this a country where you are innocent until proven guilty? Them treating people like this is like saying "prove your innocent and not a terrorist".. Its sickening... People that commit murders are treated with more respect than they people just flying across the country to visit loved ones!

      November 23, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JosephBleaux

    Hey, they can touch my junk anytime. What's not to like?

    November 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Ewwwww...

      November 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jeff Hanson

    I wonder if the people on American Airlines flights #77 & #11, and United Airlines flights #175 and #93 – would have appreciated the current TSA screening procedures that are taking place in airports across the US.

    It's been almost 10 yrs since 9/11...and we are so quick to let our guard down? Naive enough to think that it couldn't happen again? Pompous enough that we don't need some extra measures of precaution?

    I suggest everyone that is even remotely angry or frustrated that they are mildly inconvenienced at the aiports – to go to youtube. Do a quick search on 9/11. It won't take long. Watch some of the footage of that day.

    Think of the people on those 4 flights. Of the people in the buildings.

    Maybe you'll be reminded why we need to be alert – to be cautious – and to make a few adjustments to help make sure it doesn't happen again.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jake

      You are very short-sighted. What's to stop a terrorist from blowing up the line before the scanners? So much for value out of 56 billion/year for security. In the meantime, 10,000 people, three sets of twin towers, die each week from cancer in America. Do some cost-benefit analysis before you start saying 'remember 911'.

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

      flt 93 had the right idea if terorists know they will not suceed that is when they will stop. those people understood freedom and the real cost.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snoopy

      Very well said Jeff i feel the same way.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marie

      The TSA never would have found those box cutters. If they had, they would have thought they were letter openers and given them back to the terrorists.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • AmericanCabbie

      Boxcutters were LEGAL to bring on board on 9/11 and before. So a pat-down at that time would have prevented nothing. That's my biggest beef with the TSA and all of these agencies – they REACT to disaster, they don't do a very good job of ANTICIPATING.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • mslman71

      And yet if someone tried to hijack a plane with boxcutters now they'd be beaten to a bloody pulp. The problem was more policy than security.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • cloudcroftkid1

      I agree with your post.........But the TSA is going about it in the wrong way.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • the messanger

      i bet they would not have even been on that plane. TSA is only getting away with this cause the holidays. I can see alot of law suits happening and the final demise of airline companys hold on the travel industry.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ra

    911, shoebomber and the so-called underwear were all staged acts so in order to implement the one world govt and it started when the american people who gave uptheir freedom in exchane for security. Those who give up their freedom for security deserves neither.[Thomas Jefferson]

    November 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sickofthiswhining

      O here we go. I was wondering how many blog entries I'd have to read before the conspiracy theories came out. Jesus Christ.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. DM

    I was forded to endure a pat down search in Bermuda before boarding a USAir flight while another security person searched my luggage. The guy searching my bags stole ALL my cash and travelers checks while I was being "patted down" by his female partner. Granted they eventually caught him, but I'm still out my money. This was last January.

    I would much rather have the drug dogs than risk loosing my traveling cash everytime I fly. I can't afford to be paying both the outragous airfare and having money stolen by dishonest security gurads.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phinius

      Bermuda isn't the US and the guards or security that ripped you off
      have nothing to do with the TSA.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  12. el

    The man who is responsible for the security at the safest airports and airline in the world (Israel and El Al), came out publicly recently and said that he could go into any airport in the world with enough explosives on his body to take down a 747 easily and no scanner in existence would pick it up and that random pat downs are the equivalent of russian roulette! He also said that there are only 2 proven ways to insure the safety of passengers – pre-flight background checks and behavioral profiling by experts on site at the airports. But these are the very methods that the TSA won't even consider. If the TSA was really concerned about safety, they would learn from the people who have a proven safety record. There is a reason why 911 and the underwear bomber happened on US airlines and never in Israel – it isn't that we don't have enough security, it's that we don't have the right security.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Karen

    Agree or disagree with the policy, but don't take it out on the TSA employees at the airports. They are just doing their jobs.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Unconscious

      Karen, there is nowhere else to really take it out on. The people who are running the show, like Janet Napolitano, etc are hiding behind a wall of low level employees. An average flier frustrated with the policy really has no choice but to take it out on the employees of TSA and the airline. What are you going to do, write to your congressman?

      November 23, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheWall

      At risk of invoking Godwin's law, so were the guards at Nuremberg...

      Just sayin'

      November 23, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marie

      TSA employees are the only ones to take it out on. Just don't do it abusively. If you don't say anything, Pistole says the flying public is okay with the procedures. Let him hear it from his own employees that we are not okay with what's going on. Besides, the only reason they are working for the TSA is because they can't get any other job.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • mslman71

      I'm sure the distribution of personalities in the TSA environment does not differ much from the distribution of society in general, however, I do not buy into the "it's just my job" nonsense. Those who make the decisions deliberately insulate themselves from the responsibility of making them using this tactic. These TSA agents are no more forced to have that job than any other, and with the job comes the responsibility of performing actions on some number of disgruntled citizens.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. plato

    its not about patdowns,its about a police state by chiping away at our civil liberties. i for one would rather keep my freedoms and protect myself and my family.our country was born on the concept of our freedoms.the story is not overblown its just afew people who dont like whats at the end of this tunnel and i agree, the feds should learn from countries that have been sucessful at this type of action on a population,ie Israel. those that say its such alittle issue,well all the little issues add up to big problems.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. herrsonic

    I foresee a comedy like "Dumber and Dumbest" that will feature a couple of TSA characters in the future.

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