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. jeff

    I travel 50-60 times per year for business and while i prefer the "old" days, I'm under no illusion that the safety of all should be sacrificed for my convenience.

    To the media and those feeding the frenzy, stop being so self-centered and move on through the line! The TSA is just doing what they can to keep the planes safe (a part of the story that seems to be frequently overlooked).

    November 23, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • McDuck

      So instead you're under the illusion that this will actually increase security? This is just another scam to put money into pockets of buddies of politicians.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • LEVERETT

      JEFF YOU RESTORE MY FAITH IN HUMANITY.--WHAT DO YOU THINK OF MY IDEA? SINCE THIS IS A COUNTRY OF FREEDOM OF EVERYTHING FROM A TO Z WITH NO BRAINS IN BETWEEN LET THE AIRLINES OFFER SCAN–FLIGHTS AND NO–SCAN FLIGHTS THEN ALL THE COMPLAINERS CAN BE IN LIKE COMPANY.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Deej

      I agree jeff. You said it well. It is about safety.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sillyness

      I wholeheartedly agree with that idea, Leverett. And it should be left up to the airport. They can have 2 or 3 flights a day that are "super-secure" flights and the rest can be flights as we've always had them. There would never be a completely un-secured flight because the gov't has to think of the safety of people on the ground, in buildings, etc, not just on that particular plane. But the AMOUNT of safety you would like on your flight should be left up to you. If you want to get on a plane with 100 other people that have NOT been heavily security checked – then by all means, go right ahead. Me?...I'll be on the flight where everyone was scanned/groped/felt-up/etc.

      And for all of those people crying about how it doesn't make use any safer and it's all political, blah blah blah, i say – so what. No matter what the behind-the-scenes reason is for increasing airport security the fact remains that it IS an increase in airport security. So if the gov't or a private company makes a trillion dollars selling these machines and it catches even 1 person trying to smuggle something dangerous onto an airplane, then I say they've earned their trillion dollars.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  2. HN

    They only pick random people for the full body scan. And as I witnessed, most of the people who got picked were Women. Men and children could just walk through the regular metal detector, and none of them had through the body scanner.

    That raised a question: Why do we, women, have to go through the full body scanner while most men don't? Should everyone be treated the same? Seriously, randomly picking doesn't work. If 1 person gets scanned, all others should also be scanned.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Oh please...because some women got randomly picked at the time you were there, you assume it's all women. Gosh, you're a moron.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tbone

      Because you have one more place to hide something then men. And it can hide a whole lot

      November 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • jm

      Anyone who thinks young women aren't going to have it worse is forgetting the very recent cases of police officers strip searching young women without probable cause.

      Also: from an ABC news producer who was at Newark airport Sunday morning. "The woman who checked me reached her hands inside my underwear and felt her way around," she said. "It was basically worse than going to the gynecologist. It was embarrassing. It was demeaning. It was inappropriate."

      November 23, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • DrFood

      I suppose your assessment that women are picked more than men or children is statistically sound, right HN? After all, I'm pretty sure you have all the data to back that up. Tell me now: what was your p value?

      November 23, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • MidwestGrrl

      We have full body scanners at our regional airport; everyone goes through them unless you opt out. I've flown 4 times since they were installed and it really was no big deal. Didn't hear any complaints the days/times I was there and the lines moved quickly.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      The answer as to why women got "randomly" picked more often is simple. There are more men running the checkpoint than there are women.
      Perhaps they were interested in seeing if you ladies have plastic explosive surgery performed...

      November 23, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • LF

      I have noticed that they scan women more than men (and I am a guy). It must only happen when you have a man on the other side of the monitor. I think anything that involves touching an area we teach our children to tell us if they are ever touched their, should be handled by a medical professional. Period. Lets fly safe, but seriously, lets put people with a shred of decency performing the pat downs.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • TC

      I'm female and I was scanned at an airport in Florida, coulda cared less. Funny though, the random searches done of people's carryon's as planes were boarding were mostly men....

      November 23, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. John316

    I think the uproar is all nonsense......I guarantee you if one plane goes down because of lax security measures, the whiners will be the first to blame TSA and security. I'm sure these people like "free choices"...right?....choose not to fly....I want to be on a plane that every effort has been made to check for terrorists or morons....whoops....I guess we can't stop the morons.....

    November 23, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Roger in Atlanta

      Amen Brother!

      November 23, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tannim

      You're more likely to be on a plane that goes down from a mech than a kook.

      And even that is 1 in 2.6 million odds.

      IOW, the TSA smurfs are really a huge waste of time and money.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • chicagoK

      No, we can't stop the news journalists from flying. You just have to tolerate these morons on your flight.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • plato

      many more effective ways to screen passengers

      November 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      LOL! So HOW is the magic detector going to detect explosives? It LITERALLY can't tell the difference between a loaded diaper and explosive underwear.
      I guess the TSO's fingertips are explosive detectors, they can FEEL the difference between cellulose and PETN, just by the feel of nitrates!
      What is REALLY ridiculous is that our airports have tighter security than our military bases in the WAR ZONE!
      So, apparently, the US is far more dangerous than the war zone.
      We can tell, after all, IED's are going off on the highways, right?
      Schools are being blow up because girls go to the same school as boys, right?
      Police stations are blowing up too, right?
      After all, our airports are MORE dangerous as Afghanistan, as evidenced by the irradiation of travelers or reaching into underwear (not to mention my welcome home from the war zone, via a scrotum squeeze).
      What is funny is that the DoD rejected those scanners for human use in the war zone, ONLY TRUCKS get backscatter scanned. So, it's not good enough for the DoD in a war zone, but it's good enough for the TSA.
      Meanwhile, we have our fourth amendment shredded.
      Nice care you took of my country while I was deployed. Thanks for nothing.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susanna Wittstock

      I agree

      November 23, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paddywhack

      If a plane goes down, it will be proof positive that these measures were ineffective.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. cloudcroftkid1

    The head of the TSA needs to be fired........NOW !

    November 23, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • drqns

      Why should he be fored? Because you don't like him?

      November 23, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • chicagoK

      Whoa! Obama is the top dog. He approved the TSA actions! The buck stops at the leader, not his appointee who's actions he approved. If you don't like what the TSA is doing, blame the boss. Make him explain it. Clearly, Obama made a mess out of the deployment of the news security measures. But he really hasn't demonstrated any executive leadership skills and tends to make a mess out of most things that he can't solve by going on vacation. The news media flamed the fires as they normally do. Moronic truth terrorists like to exaggerate and sensationalize. I think the TSA should give news journalists full rectal exams as they are the known terrorists, aka truth terrorists.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Daniel

    Anyone else notice that CNN's report never mentions the fact that people are opting out of the scanner for fear that the radiation might cause cancer and they don't believe the U.S. government "experts" who say otherwise. Why hide this fact CNN?

    November 23, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sleep Cycle

      Notice how hard the media is trying to characterize objection to new TSA measures as overblown or unwarranted. If only they had used this tactic in the last election cycle. It's all deliberate manipulation. Ask yourself why the powers that own the news media do not want us to object.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Wanderlust or Bust

    This is all being blown out of proportion. So to win the hearts and minds of potential air travelers, TSA is giving away free tickets to the premier of their latest feature film:

    http://robustwanderlust.blogspot.com/2010/11/invasion-of-body-scanners.html

    November 23, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ed

    We're are like the citizens in pre-war Nazi Germany while the police state grew and took over. If we sit back and let them take all our rights, we deserve the end result, a police state in the US.

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

      Ed,
      What rights are they taking away? Your right to fly? You do not have the right to fly, it is a privledge. Read the Bill of Right, it has no mention of flying. If you don't want to be examined by the TSA, you have the right NOT to FLY!. Plain and simple. If you want to fly, you follow the law and fly.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      @Bill there is the Right to Travel Freely and unmolested between the states. There is the right to not be unreasonably searched without probable cause and a warrant.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tannim

      Bill, you moron, when the Bill of Rigths was written airplanes didn't exist for another 115 years.

      An airline ticket is a private business contract between the traveler and theh airline. Therfore teh security obligations fall to the airline, but they, in their failed efforts to cut customer service in favor of profits, abdicated that to the government that subsidizes them woth our tax dollars, and the result is the mess you see here.

      Time to dismantle and start over with something different and better.

      Tomorrow is gonna be hilarious.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      People don't really notice the slow erosion of their rights ,priviledges and protections over the last 3 or 4 decades. Many haven't been around long enough to notice. They don't think a Nazi style police state can happen here because we have these rights but the rights are disappearing. Its Catch 22. As Thomas Jefferson stated (and i paraphrase) "a society that gives up its rights in the name of security gets neither".

      November 23, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jose head

    All of this could be avoided if TSA we could get over the idiocy of being politically correct to avoid "profiling." The reality is that we don't need to be searching three year old children, or 90 year old grandmothers. There is a select and distinctive group, identifiable by gender and race, who are most likely going to cause problems. And everyone knows this. The costs involved, incurred strictly because of are just ridiculous.

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

      Once you find a loop-hole (like not searching kids or grandmothers), you pick it to carry something. You people are thinking like nice people. Think like a terrorist bent on killing any way possible.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • TK

      100% agree

      November 23, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • gettincold

      That's not exactly sound logic. If you are hell bent on blowing up a plane and you know that if you have a beard and wear a cowboy hat that you are going to be heavily screened, then what do you do? You get your wife – who does not wear a beard or a cowboy hat – to carry the explosives on for you. So while TSA is busy profiling completely innocent people who just happen to look the type, the normal-looking people will waltz right on through with bombs in their pockets. Profiling is a dangerous game to play. Terrorists are mean and evil, but they are by far stupid.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. louie

    I'm a middle aged hispanci male. I look like a real tough guy and have a common hispanic name which is on the terrorist watch list. I'm also a Social Worker at a community health center. I've been dealing with these pat downs since 9/11. Nobody ever complained when it was the scary guy boarding the plane but now that it happens to everyone else they feel violated and cry like babies. I say relax and shut up. If you want to avoid pat downs drive or take a train.

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

    do they change gloves after each pat? They should...

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

      Its not a body cavity search you dufus.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Actually, Mike.. They put their hands in your pants. They touch pubic hair and genitals. The gloves should be changed.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Katherine

    These scanners are more about corporate lobbying and back room deals than security.

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2010-11-22-scanner-lobby_N.htm

    November 23, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  12. stephen douglas

    From an old Robin Williams routine...."A five year old getting a pat down by airport security – "Hey, get your hands off me, you're not a priest!""

    November 23, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. RdclCntrst

    And for those of you you want to get rid of TSA and use private firms for airport security, consider this: The concerns about 4th Amendment rights go out the window when you remove the government from the equation. The 4th Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure BY THE GOVERNMENT. It has nothing to say about some megalithic corporation insisting that you can't get on one of their airplanes until you go through a scanner. Or worse. What would you do if the government suddenly declared no one could get on a plane without being strip-searched? Right. Now what would you do if the companies that OWNED THE AIRPLANES said the same thing? Yeah, I thought so.

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

      You're an idiot. If a private company or firm tried to do this, it would be a CRIME. Not to mention, they'd be sued in civil court into bankruptcy. So the 4th amendment doesn't apply....but we have numerous other laws that do. But the 4th Amendment DOES apply to this. I give this until the Supreme court knocks it down.

      Besides, the security checkpoint isn't the weak link anyway, and never was even when we just used metal detectors.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jeff

    Way overblown. Americans are generally fat, rude, and disgusting. The TSA should be outraged at having to touch these people. Personally, I agree with the procedured (as do most Americans) and we have to do something to increase security.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. DP

    Wrong question. When you're talking about violating a person's body boundaries, you respect that person's will, not the results of a poll.

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