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, 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? 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,"'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 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. Peter E

    Those who are shocked by patdowns have obviously never traveled oversees. Just try to get through London! They pat you down without warning, (none of the lengthy 4 minute explanation US pat-downs mandate) and if you start protesting you'll be arrested on the spot!
    And also the TSA and the media need to be more honest with us. These pat-downs and scanners aren't (primarily) about terrorists. They are about drug smugglers. Much of airport screening is about weeding out drug smugglers, but of course, that doesn't scare people enough, so CNN and other corporate media just keep parroting 'be scared, you'll die, terrorists will get you, the apocalypse is coming.'

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

      What? I've never ever received a pat-down anywhere abroad, including London, other various European airports, the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The only invasive security experiences I've ever had have taken place in the good old USA. I agree with the rest of your post though.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Pendes

    I think it's pretty funny when people say the body scanner takes a "nude" photo of you ... it's more like a bone outline of your body. These people obviously have never seen nude photos. I really don't understand why these people find the body scanner so offensive or unsafe. It's about as safe as using your cell phone & I doubt if anyone is going to give up their cell phone because of its radiation. Some people will complain about anything if you let them.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Unconscious

      @Pendes, what are you talking about? Have you seen the leaked TSA images? You can definitely see the tiniest details on those images, no, its not just the outline if you can see the labia on a woman. And of course it stores the images, how else do you think they are going to have the evidence that a terrorist was trying to smuggle something illegal onto a plane?
      As far as they are safe, what evidence do you have that its perfectly safe? Has there been clinical trials and studies for years proving that it's safe, and they are safe for EVERYONE? That includes cancer survivors, pilots, etc. So far it seems that the scanners are just a knee jerk reactions that haven't been through through very well at all.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. sara

    It is overblown. As far the shirtless little boy, his father took his shirt off (he wasn't ask to), he did it because I think he is a jerk and shame on the father for doing that to his son. The media is overblowing this entire thing. I travel a lot and have never had a problem. Sometimes people make there own problems by being jerks.

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

      Consider yourself lucky then. If you are ok with someone groping your breasts or fondling your labia as part of the russian roulette of security known as the TSA, then that's fine. But I for one will stand up and protest this avaricious attempt to create fear and profit from it by lobbyists and former federal officials who are now consulting for these scanner corporations just to line their pocket at the expense of all of us.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Darryl

    If these scanners and pat downs are so effective and so safe, then why don't we deploy them at bus stations, train stations, ferry terminals, subway entrances, office buildings, malls, churches, bolling alleys, sports arenas, and schools? If we don't stop the scanners here and now thats exactly what the TSA will do. Remember the TSA is trying to protect you against an event that is statistically less likely than being struck by lightning. If you're that afraid of the big bad terrorist, please stay home. I would much rather die free than live in a police state.

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

      Darryl, the supporters of this policy will bend over for ANYTHING the government wants to insert into their stupid freedom-hating backsides.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tami

      A police state erected for the benefit of the "peoples safety". Hold on to the railing because the slippery slope comes out of nowhere, and fast.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. b0bc4t

    If you want privacy, stay home.
    If you don't want a cavity search, keep the metal out of your pockets.
    If you don't want to go through the X-Ray, don't fly.

    Public transportation involves PUBLIC SAFETY.
    I hate flying, so I drive, but I do fly on occasion, when time is an issue. MY CHOICE!

    Make your own choices, but don't hate others who are doing their jobs to KEEP YOU SAFE!
    Ask the screeners if they like performing these humiliating searches .... I think not.

    Don't fly, and the airlines will BEG you to come aboard ... AGAIN ..... YOUR CHOICE!

    November 23, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Unconscious

      Exactly normal people DON'T want to do those jobs, who wants to spend their time looking at naked pictures and groping people?
      Sounds like a perfect job for a pervert, imo, which is probably who would apply en masse.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. stagger lee

    Land of the free. Home of the brave. This is America. If you prefer being a sheep — a slave to your government, a coward to your neighbors — there are plenty of other countries where you can live. This is America. If you don't like it, don't try to change it. Get on the next flight out. Just leave yourself plenty of time to get through your so-called Security. When enough of you morons leave, we can get back to being the Land of the free and the home of the brave. And no terrorists can stop us. Just leave sheepeople.Get the flip out of my country!

    November 23, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jody

    I'm a frequent traveler for business reasons and have been patted down 3x in the last 11 months. PATTED DOWN WITHOUT EVEN HAVING AN OPTION OF A BODY SCAN. And just to clarify here, only one of those times had I done something stupid enough that even remotely warranted at pat down (didn't think about it, wore a baggy hoodie sweatshirt as my only layer). The other two were at random. While I have always been polite to the TSA people, I've been furious every time. The pat downs aren't just simple pat downs, they include going up the inside of your thighs all the way to your pelvic area. Let me tell you, as a female, that's not always a comfortable thing.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Cassandra

    Has everyone forgotten about 9/11? Had these measures been in place during that time, a terrible tragedy could have been avoided. Quit whining about everything! If you get patted down, you whine! If a plane slams into the World Trade Center, you whine! It's no wonder other countries look at the United States as a bunch of spoiled, rotten children!!! If you don't like the new procedures, then don't fly! Don't make it worse for those of us who could care less. And for the idiot who said just pat down all the Muslims, well I already said it, you're an idiot. Timothy McVeigh was as American as they come and there are plenty more in this country just like him. America, let's get a grip, and quit listening to the hype and rheteric that is spread by our media. They LOVE to scare people!!!

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

      Cassandra, you are so naive that it just oozes out of you.

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

      Those who could "care less" are bad people. You make this country worse off for living here. Please, Cassandra, move to Russia or Afghanistan or Iraq right away. They'd love someone who doesn't care and hates their own rights.

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

      Yes, Dave. I could care less about going thru a scanning device or getting patted down. If it makes me safer, then who really gives a crap? I travel you? Probably not. And no thanks. I'm happy in my own country, but I hear al quaeda is recruiting. Sounds like you'd be perfect for the job.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      Please explain in details how body scanners that don't show internal body cavities and pat-downs will prevent a terrorist attack?

      November 23, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • marky

      Cassandra, these dumb@@ses will probably never get it. They are the type that watched Hitler lead the Germans right on down that yellow brick road, and blamed everyone else when everything turned bad and they got caught.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Saboth

    When Israel decides these scanners actually do something, and install them, then we can talk.

    Terrorists will always find a way to do something. The question is, how many rights and how much privacy are you willing to give up to feel safer? Apparently most of America is fine with the goverment taking nude photographs of their families, and groping their family's private parts, for a tiny bit more safety. (Really,security experts agree the scans and patdowns do virtually can insert explosives into body cavities or have surgery to implant think a TSA agent groping your nuts is going to find something like that?)

    It's all part of lobbyists and kickbacks....probably one reason the government wants to switch to private contractors, so they can spread more wealth around to their Halliburton and Blackwater buddies.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Craig

    Security theater always seems one step behind. You think it's bad now....

    We had the shoe bomber . . . take shoes off at security

    We had the underwear bomber . . . full body scans at security

    Just wait until the rectal bomber makes his appearance . . . TSA will be stocking up on vaseline..

    November 23, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Nathan Prophet

    It is all about the "buddy system" in DC – an evolution of the "military industrial complex" Eisenhower warned us about. It's about making lots of personal money at the expense of the American taxpayer. So what else is new? The machines are not needed; the groping of bodies is not needed. We need profiling and targeted intensive interviewing, plus we need pre-screening of American citizens so that they can go through security quickly, thus allowing TSA to focus on actual possible threats.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cassandra

      And you call me naive? ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! You're with al quaeda right? Spreading B.S. rheteric just to make people frightened. It's peole like you who create havoc for those of us who just go with the flow. There's nothing you can do about quit whining and be a productive member of society!

      November 23, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jackosn R.G.

    Every person has the choice to take the body scan, or the pat down if pulled aside for further inspection. What people do not have the right to do is to compromise the safety of others, buy undermining national security measures put into place by the TSA. We ask to be be protected, then do not let people protect us..

    If you are that offended, don't fly

    November 23, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill Carson

      You know what? I don't have to cooperate. I can insist on a time wasting pat down rather than go through one of those machines. That's what I'm going to do tomorrow and I don't have to listen to anyone who tells me "not to fly." And I'll complain about as much as I want as long as we don't reasonably profile or otherwise try to be efficient.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      Amen, Bill Carson. Amen.

      November 23, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JosephBleaux

    I wonder if they give those children candy after molesting them?

    November 23, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • maggie

      NOpe. They save it just for you.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. belle

    There is a simple way for anyone to *Opt out* of all this...don't fly. As someone who has actually studied transportation security, and still remembers 9/11, unlike the many who seem to have forgotten, I'm personally tired of all the complaining about not wanting to be patted down or go through the scanners. If you don't like it, don't fly!! Drive, take the Greyhound or Amtrak, and quit complaining already.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Except that Pistole has already said he wants these scanner deployed in bus and train stations next.

      So you'll have to soon modify your statement to read 'if you don't like it stay inside your house'.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sickofthiswhining

      Hey Joe, I work for the railroad. Do you know WHY this will be deployed in train stations next? Not because of Al Qaeda or anyone who looks Muslim, whatever that is. It is because our conservative friends with ties to the NRA attached an amendment to this year's spending bill for Amtrak that REQUIRES Amtrak to allow passengers to carry guns on trains as a condition of funding for the next year. Not in the coaches themselves but in their checked luggage. As you know, that won't stop people from trying to bring their little toys on board nonetheless. THIS is why TSA is coming soon to a train station near you. So some of you who whine so loudly I'm guessing have caused part of this problem.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. D Michaels

    I'm sure any individual, group, organization or network that was or is considering terrorist action utilizing commercial aircraft is/are rubbing their hands together in delight watching this rediculous debate play out in the media fully expecting Washington to cave under the pressure. 'Body scan / pat down or blown up?' I need a little more time to think about it....

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