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. Joe citizen abroad

    A combination of three things would make this all go away: metal detectors, voice stress monitoring, and dogs.

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

    Wow.

    The EXACT same IDIOTS who are crying about the Federal Government's Transportation Service Administration (TSA) aggressive and thorough security screening measures:

    (a) Are the same IDIOTS that would be complaining about the Federal Government IF another terrorist-attack happened.

    (b) Seem to think that Airline Travel is somehow a "right" – It is NOT. It is a "privilige" and is subject to various rules.

    IF you do NOT want to go through the aggressive and thorough security screening measures – THEN get in you car and DRIVE to where you want to travel or WALK to where it is you want to travel. Or BETTER-YET keep your dumb-asses at home.

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

      Indeed.

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

      if it was a privilage then i wouldn't have to pay outragious

      November 23, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Unconscious

      How is it a privilege when I am paying for the ticket? When the government starts handing out free tickets, it will be a privilege, until then, it's a right. I am purchasing it.
      Also, LOLCAPS, don't make anything you typed more right. They just make it look more stupid than it already is.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jason

    Why not have everyone wear TSA issued Jump suits on all flights. You disrobe put on a jump suit and get on your flight.

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

    What i don't like ... The one doing the pat downs doesn't change their gloves after each pat down. GROSS!

    November 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. GCV

    Is there really growing vocal anger? Or is it perhaps another attempt by the ratings oriented press to grab headlines? I am guessing the former. Time after time I find myself wishing the press would put aside the sensationalism and instead focus on educating the public as to why an action is being taken, what it hopes to achieve, and what the counterpoint argument against it is. Real journalism by real smart journalists. Instead we always get flawed rubbish by lazy or incompetent journalists. I wonder if this is the way it is always going to be? Maybe Sarah Palin is smart after all for not reading newspapers. LOL. Probably not!

    November 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. schmuel

    File complaints with the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General. DHS OIG

    November 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dave

    I fly a lot. I've seen a lot. I know first hand what is going on and here's the fact of the matter.

    The TSA is an overblown gasbag with no real security procedure in place. Ask any cop what a pat-down is and how well the TSA does them. Try to opt-out of the body scanner only to see that security, which didn't care about your bags going through the X-ray machine before, will now decide that because you didn't comply with them initially, it's worth wasting everyone's time by going through your luggage.

    How did your luggage suddenly become unsafe just because you didn't want to get an X-ray?

    There's plenty of ways to make air travel safer and the TSA has not embraced any of them. You know what the number 1 deterrent of terrorism has been since 9/11/2001? Passengers. Passengers stopped the underpants AND shoe bomber and they will stop anyone else who tries to pull anything on a plane. We all want mutually ensured safety so nobody will let another 9/11 or anything else happen again without fighting back first. In the end, you'll need a lot more terrorists on one flight to take it over and at that point, who is really "winning?"

    Terrorists are stupid and the only reason they'll ever succeed is if everyone else gets stupider. The TSA is a part of the stupid. Let's make them smart.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Eric

    If you don't like the pat down then take a bus, take a train or drive. The first two are usually cheaper anyway. If you want convenience then deal with the heightened security. I'd rather have a pat down and know my flight is safe then take a chance because a few people are overly sensitive.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ronan

    am i the only one who thinks the terrorists are winning here without doing a thing?
    we are Radiating our population and molesting our children and why? it is out of fear, and our fear is misplaced. but
    that is how terrorism works. one big attack then a couple of reminders and the nation cowers, looking over their shoulders and thinking everything is a threat.
    well done America we are loosing the war and we dont even know it.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. randy

    It will probably take another plane being blown up to settle the score once and for all. I just hope that I, nor anyone I know is on it. I truly believe that most of the people against the scanners and pat downs probably don't travel very much ( I said most not all) That is their right. It is also my right to want as many precautions as possible to keep me and mine safe. It was only by the stupidity of the shoe bomber that he tried to do his deed in his seat instead of going into the privacy of the bathroom . Next time someone with half a brain may do just that.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bill Carson

    "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."

    Actually, it is a brainer. When you frisk or X-ray every tenth person or whatever instead of actively looking for terrorists, you're wasting everyone's time. You need to profile to some reasonable degree or else you do this crazy every tenth person stuff. So it is a "brainer," not a no brainer as the TSA suggests. I have to fly tomorrow but have no intention of cooperating in the way the TSA wants. They will have to frisk me as is my right under the law. I'll cooperate when I see the TSA has the orders to actually use their brains.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  12. yvette

    As a frequent traveler to Europe I went through a body scan this summer in Amsterdam. What bothers me most about this procedure is that the airport staff in the United States is pretty beligerent and rude when they ask passengers to submit to these invasive procedures. Unlike in Europe, it always seems to turn into a power game with the staff in the USA (I fly from New York mainly). The same thing happened after 9/11 and checking of suitcases and other items; the treatment was so rough and rude that it took a lot of will power to continue flying for quite some time. I lived through the WTC collapse up close and feel this course of treatment is not warranted. There are lessons to be learned from other countries, such as Israel, when it comes to taking precautions. This is not worth the cost to our civil and human rights.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. WildMontana

    I have one word for security personnel: profile. When was the last time a caucasian grandmother committed a terrorist act? If the look like a duck, walk like a duck and quack like a duck – give 'em the full monty. As for homegrown terrorists recruited by these nutcases, they tend to adopt the mannerisms, dress and grooming of middle easterners.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jim P

    Look at the picture of the little girl being searched by the TSA agent. Teaching the youth of today to be the sheep of tomorrow.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Hank Vaccaro

    All I can say is "they are laughing hysterically in NW Pakistan."

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

      No kidding about that!!! Our attempts at security are like babies robbing banks.

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