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. Vincent

    I would maybe find it less offensive if not for the fact that better methods have already been employed and proven to work in other countries. The TSA needs to duplicate Israel's airport security practices IMMEDIATELY.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tiffany

    I wouldn't mind if a strong good looking man felt me up.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Strong Good Looking Man

      So when and where do you want me to meet you?

      November 23, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Voice of Reason

    We live in a society where privacy of one's body is the norm. These scans reveal far too much about the shape of the body. If it could avoid showing the body shape and only show bomb and weapon materials or solid body parts like bones that would be a huge step forward in getting these scans accepted.

    The pat downs are horribly intrusive, and the agents do not know what they are doing when they make fun of people's bodies, break urine bags, fondle prosthetic breasts, etc. These should be done by a trained individual in private with the option for someone else to act as witness in case anything inappropriate is done.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Creel

      If having the shape of your body seen is that traumatic, then change the shape of your body. Every time I see some fat lady wearing spandex I want to puke, but they still wear it and expose us to it.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. C B

    Bottom line–terrorists are real-I want to fly for convenience–I definitely want to arrive SAFELY– Subject everyone to screening of some type and I will feel safer. Just get on with it. Thanks.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • aj

      Scanners aren't 100%. Would you feel safer yet if everyone were stripped naked for the flight? Also, since terrorists keep altering to get around our security, when they use a body cavity bomb to get around the scanners, do you think full body cavity searches are warranted and acceptable? Is there no line where safety concerns become grey?

      November 23, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • DB

      And just how do these new measures make you any safer than you were last week? Do they detect anything being concealed inside the body?

      November 23, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • C B

      No, maybe not 100% and pat downs are fine if deemed necessary! Just as long as they are doing it all is better than not doing anything and taking chances with those without conscience. They will be less likely to try it if they know they will be subjected to some type of screening. It won't matter if you complained and griped about screenings if you don't arrive alive. Don't fly if you don't want the screenings. Just drive yourself.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thersa

      aj- since hardly anyone seemed to care about their phones and emails being tapped this mainly seems to be a case of modesty. In that case I think interior body scans would be less offensive than pat-downs or imaging scans.
      I consider my thoughts more sacrosanct than my body shape and that was given up without a fight.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • DB

      So you are trying to say that pat downs are a deterrent? Yeah, right. I can see it now. Would be terrorist's plot foiled because he was a afraid of security pat down. Face it. It only makes you feel secure. It doesn't actually do anything to make you safer.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mike in KC

    As usual media creating hysteria by reporting some exceptions in the screening process as the norm. When will Americans ever figure that out.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bob Zmuda

    This article is terrible. No responsible news organization should be presenting a clear violation of the 4th Amendment as a give-and-take "issue". Condemnation and facts are all that you should be giving us.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • smc

      The 4th Amendment does not apply when you CHOOSE to go to a privately run airport. Can I show up at your house and wander around without you asking questions and searching me?

      November 23, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • irkw

      "The 4th Amendment does not apply when you CHOOSE to go to a privately run airport. Can I show up at your house and wander around without you asking questions and searching me?"

      It applies when that "privately run airport" has security enforced by the government that violates your 4th amendment rights. Now, if the government stepped away from this and allowed all "privately run airports / airlines" to make security decisions, then you would have an argument.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Creel

    They cried over the helmet law, they cried over the seatbelt law, they cried over the 55 mph speed limit, they cried over mandatory insurance, they cried when the drinking age was raised, and today, they cry over scanners and pat-downs. No big deal, crying is simply what many people like to do. It will pass.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aileen

      They cried over the Stamp Act, and that's why you live in a free country today.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • aj

      And I applaud everyone who cried when we lost yet another civil liberty, and weep that folks who don't care about what our country fought for continues to be stripped away.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Creel

      By all means, cry on. I'm not suggesting you stop, because I know you can't. I'm merely stating the fact that you will cry, and you will post anonymous comments using little avatars on the web, and that's all you will do. So please don't compare yourselves to people that put their lives on the line making this a free country. Being a whiner does not a hero make.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Creel please don't imply that everyone who serves in the military is a hero. I have plenty of family and friends who have and not all of them are heroes. Besides why does doing exactly what your told make you a hero? The guys and gals who actually risk their lives, not just join, are the heroes. Still my voice and the voice of everyone else is just as important. It's really annoying how so many people think that because you were in the armed forces you are some kind of demi god!

      November 23, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • SJErik

      55 mph speed limit was revoked... great example.

      The rest of those things don't involve the government violating your personal privacy. That is entirely unacceptable to any true American.

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

    America, the land of the free – until you actually want to exercise those freedoms, like freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. (It's in the 4th Amendment, CNN; look it up.) Then those rights and freedoms are merely luxuries that can be taken away because last year a mentally ill man tried a harebrained scheme that was shut down when other passengers subdued him.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bob Zmuda

    Do you realize that the entire world is laughing at us over this?

    November 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      Good point Bob!

      November 23, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Creel

      Absolutely they are, because most countries I fly through have been doing pat-downs for awhile, and its far from optional. They already laugh at us for being so fat, and now we're afraid of that fat being seen or touched.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anthony

      Bob: Amen to that!!!

      BTW the world has nbeen laughing at us since the Nov. 2 election where we the people put the same bozos back in office that got us in the finacial mess wwe ar ecurrently in. When a country is that stupid, anything is possible!!!

      November 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Laura

    ps. Is this reporter REALLY scared to go to the airport? I don't think so.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jason

    And with this headline, it's becoming clear that CNN wants to simply be the propaganda arm of "The Man" in DC. 'nuff said!

    November 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Borealbob

    Al Quida has won the war. Just got off the plane. My genitals were probed for a good 10 seconds. Never again.
    Our country has lost – we have turned into a cowering third world nation.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Ward

      Everyone defending these "security" measures needs to read this post.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. David

    Polls? Heres how you do polls. You run ten and find the one that supports your arguement, and thats the one you present. Utter garbage.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Anne

    It is apparent how some people actually believe we are being monitored 24/7. Have we finally realized that we have become what we were fighting against during the Cold War? Freedom is what we crave, not control by our own government. Europeans and the Israelis have fought terrorism for years and they understand that all the gadgets don't work, what matters is training the personnel to spot the enemy. Do not allow yourself to be fooled by false security, what counts will be your determination to live a free life in a free country. No amount of screening in the world can stop the enemy, only your defiance to them will make the difference. We must stand together and send another message to Washington, no more intrusions on our privacy, we want our freedom back. It is not an illusion. I will never allow my 80 year old father to be patted down. If we allow this type of society to exist, we will loose ourselves.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sherry Buckner

    there is a time to draw a line and this is it.
    If we don't stop the invasion of our persons...how will we stop something bigger?

    November 23, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
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