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. Danny

    Hey Tarcos and Stephen, GW ddn't put plastic explosive underwear on the guy who tried to blow up a plane headed for New York. This Scanner issue is rediculous, just take all the junk out of your pockets, listen to the TSA agents, instead of talking to your boyfriend, and go through the scanner. If you screw-up or don't want to get scanned, then you get frisked, it's simple as that.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. bill

    well, how many gropes and scanners and tsa agents are going to save me from a bird strike or an engine failure???????

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

      I think that they are going to have to search the birds before takeoff... including a gloved-inspection under the tail feathers.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. kim

    I think it is all overblown....as an older woman with metal in both knees, I have been patted down for years as I always set off the metal detectors...who cares? Why the big deal about it now?....get over it people.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  4. John

    All I can say is, if you refuse to go thru the scanner and you don't want the pat down, then don't fly!
    I am sick of hearing about these complainers. Do you think the TSA agents really want to touch you body?
    I don't think so. As anything in life, if you don't follow the rules, then you cant play, or should I say fly!
    I wouldn't want your A$$ on the same plane as I am on if you cant suffer thru this minor safety precaution.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mike

    As someone who flies twice a week I cay that the inconsistency in the application of these security methods make this completely ineffective as well as intrusive. We're gonna get groped and then die in a terrorist attack.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Maria

    The reason why this is such a joke is because the terrorists will place bombs in their body cavity to blow up planes. So unless we are doing something to check body cavities and allow profiling then we will see planes blown up again and again. We are a nation that reacts; we don't know how to be proactive.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. debdumptruck

    It has taken me awhile to figure out this airline security business. It is no longer safe to fly. If we have to go through this much security then it must not be safe to fly and these measures are to try and make sure that something is harder to do. So therefor the logical conclusion is that basically our government does not feel that it is safe to fly in the US. Afterall someone must know something they are not telling or we would not need to have every person treated like this.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jeff

    Thanks TSA. You're doing a good job. Don't listen to the critics.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. locdvegan

    bleh...i'm so tired of people screaming about their rights being violated...i have one for ya...i have a right to be protected from some psycho idiot that wants to hijack or blow up a plane so if the govt/TSA doesn't provide protection using whatever means they feel necessary, does that mean mine are violated? anyway, how about this: i propose we have separate terminals at all of the airports....half of the terminals will have what some call 'nudie scanners and molestor's trying their best to keep the bad guys from boarding, and the other half will board everyone else that doesn't wish to take this extra precaution, along with the people that have weapons, explosives, etc...problem solved? (i'll be running butt nekkid thru the scanner)

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

    In 2005, 10,500 people were killed in the U.S. in auto accidents determined to have been caused by elderly drivers.

    56 private U.S. citizens (non-military) were killed by terrorism worldwide.

    Conclusion: You are ~188 times as likely to be killed by someone's grandparent than you are to be killed by a terrorist.

    Stop eroding my rights to quell your irrational fear.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Macon,ga

    Every interview suggests that this new technology today used in USA airport would have caught the underwear boomer, that is BS, the underwear boomer did not fly out of the USA, and the airport he did fly out of currently DOES NOT use the new scanners.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. chuck

    The whole TSA is a joke. Lets just frisk those whom fit the profile of the terrorists. These would be young Middle Eastern Muslim men. You can call it profiling, or just plain common sense. The little boy with his shirt removed, thee old lady we see in the photo? Does any one think these people fit the terrorist profile? Come on now lets use some sense here.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Forrestal

    This is ginned up outrage by guys like Sean Hannity who are pushing for racial profiling and harassment.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Danny

    1. There is no right to fly.

    2. If you choose to fly, you now know that there are conditions to have the privilege to fly.

    No one is violating your rights because you are submitting to the REQUEST of the TSA. You can say "NO" to the request. If you say no, then you don't fly. I don't see why there is a problem.

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

      There's no right ride the subway either...what's your point? Dumb. You're basically arguing that the government can control your every move.

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

      Tell that to the millions of Americans who must fly for business corporations. They have the right to lose their jobs because they don't want to be subjected to radiation or humiliation.

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

      If you say "no", you get an $11,000 fine.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Danny

      Life is full of "Choices" . It is a "Choice" to fly. With that choice you have rules. If you don't want to play by the rules, then you have made your choice. There other ways that a person can travel. It maybe "inconvenient" for that person to take other transportation, but the government does not have to make things convenient.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Angeline

    I'm pretty sure that the TSA officers doing the actual patting have it worse off than the travelers who get patted down. Can you imagine having to feel up hundreds of people that maybe aren't the most pleasant, attractive people?

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