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. remfpog

    If the objective is to make us safer, the TSA should use explosive sniffers (trace detectors, there are hand held versions). This can be complemented by dogs. Metal detectors would still detect any knives and/or guns. Behavioral profiling works. All these are more effective methods, and less invasive. I'd rather have that. If once the TSA changes it's ways to reason, and if you don't like it... well... don't fly 🙂

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

      Actually, the TSA uses all of those methods. Unless you get picked in a "random" selection, the only time you will undergo more thorough screening is if the Metal Detector goes off or some other alert happens. The TSA tells you in their website what you need to do to keep this from happening (if you don't already know). There's a lot more going on in terms of security than what he public sees at the checkpoints.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      To AskSysMis –

      Actually full-body scanners and pat-downs are being used as primary screening in several airports. I have personally experienced this in the past couple months. In those cases there's nothing you can do to avoid the scanner or a groping.

      November 23, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Richard

    The seller of these machines is a jew ( Michael Chertoff). The media that is trying to blow off the concerns and disgust of these machines and tsa are also zionists. Wake up America! Bump israel let it sand on it's own. Take back your country and lives.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Amy Libeman

    I have solution for all the groping and touching. Eat a hearty bean salad an hour or two before flying and when they come for the junk, BLAST OFF. Guaranteed you'l be let go immediately. If they complain just say you got nervous and farted in their face.

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

      I agree, Amy. In fact, I think we should take it a step further ... make sure we are "charged up" before the pat downs so we can use the TSA as a "happy ending". 🙂

      November 23, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JillofReal

    I love how CNN only posts articles that are pro-scanner. Where is the mention of the heads of the radiology depts at both Columbia and Johns Hopkins Universities that said people WILL die from the scanner radiation? How come no one talks about how the xmas day bomber was allowed on the plane by our state dept, as evidenced by the congressional testimony of Patrick Kennedy? How come no one talks about how former DHS head Chertoff, who was all over the news promoting the scanner, also conveniently had a client who manufactures the scanners... gee, conflict of interest$$$??? Stand up for yourselves people, for pete's sake! Get up off your knees and STAND UP!!! For the love of God, WAKE UP!!!

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

      Well said!

      November 23, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. JRH

    Why can no one (in any position of authority) not see that this is ridiculous, and that all the money and manpower would be MUCH better spent on intelligence and profiling? The reaction to this is not overblown. This is simply theatre and it accomplishes nothing. Even the Israelis call this technology "useless". And the power groping is just the TSA out of control. Given the anatomical variation in humans, unless we're really strip searched, they aren't going to find something that someone really wants to hide in their underwear anyway. What's next, random full cavity searches? It's only logical if you go by current logic (which is an oxymoron in this case). What comes after that? Does TSA get to search my house when I purchase my ticket? Not one single airliner since 9/11 has been hijacked, nor has a bomb been carried by anyone who wasn't a young, male, south/southwest Asian who fitted a completely identifiable profile. Why are we searching 3 year old little girls and 90 year old grandmas in wheel chairs? It's just stupid.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Joe

    All of this ignores why they want to attack us in the first place – it isn't for our 'freedom' – it's because we engage in endless and pointless wars overseas. We suffer while successive administrations continue a failed foreign policy.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jeff

    How many more days will TSA security procedures capture the headlines of CNN? It's been about 2 weeks now that a TSA article has made the front page.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Helaina Hinson

    Newest tactic by the idiots at TSA: downplay the number of unhappy passengers ('"just a few malcontents") and gloss over the seriousness of offenses such as the gentleman with the urostomy.

    They must be terrified of Opt-Out Day....with good reason.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Polarizing Headline

    Is it extreme A or B?
    Of course CNN, surely the answer lies no where in the middle ground.

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

      For CNN, the answer lies with who will generate the most advertising revenue.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Remember when...

    Those who give up Freedom for Security deserve neither.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. James

    This article seems to suggest that our choices here are whatever security methods the TPA decides are "appropriate" or absolutely no security at all. That argument is total nonsense and any educated person knows that these new TSA methods are overblown, ineffective and done for political show. I bet some Congressman's brother-in-law owns the company that makes the full body scanner.

    10 years since 9/11 and all of a sudden the Government just now decides that maybe they should actually start ramping up security? Way to go guys, really on the ball there....I call B.S.

    If security is so important than why do less than 4% of all incoming cargo ships coming into the U.S. get searched? Why is security on the border (both northern and southern) so lax? Why do I have to have some TSA agent put his finger up my butt when Osama Bin blowin stuff up is still sitting in his little cave laughing at us?

    You people better wake to reality before you wake up in a Government "Re-education" center. Mark my words.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. gen

    thumbs up to Specter & Jack..
    For those who are against with Scanning and Pat-Downs, DEAL WITH IT...!!! or"SHUT UP! & DON"T TRAVEL!" not unless it is a drving distance -with your own vehicle! TSA will be doing the same thing at the trains and busses stations as well.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Scott


    November 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Paul Van Bellinghen

    How about discontinue pat down option and maker scans mandatory – else, don't fly.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      I'm pregnant you fool and don't want to subject my unborn child to radiation. I shouldn't be forced to go through a full body scanner to fly. Passengers should have choices. I'll take a pat down rather than expose my baby to radiation no matter how minimal . Of course you're a man so you wouldn't understand.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sue Harris

    I only worry about two things:
    – children who have been taught, over the last 2 decades, that they should not allow strangers to touch them
    – abuse victims who now need to let themselves be groped in order to fly on a airplane

    November 23, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
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