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. miguel

    I think all this is a good idea the reason you do not here anyone getting caught is because its a deterent.Second if we would have had this maybe no 911 and to (el's) coment on the security man from Israel they only have one airport so its a little easier than over 500 major airports in the U.S.A. and last but not least if you dont like it dont fly. Maybe this will force a high speed rail system. and then will have new problems it will always be somthing The battle with evil will always be but we must adjust and be vigilant.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. mockingbird52

    The outrage is from people that object to TSA's actions when they don't make you any safer. The amount of the new explosive powders that could bring down a plane is the size of a sugar packet and it wouldn't show up on the xray machines if you knew where to put it. So all the sticking of the hands in your underwear is for nothing.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Peter Shaw

    One aspect of this is being ignored: the impact on handicapped and medically compromised travelers. Hundreds of thousands of people in this country must use internal or external prosthetics or medical devices, or are mobility or otherwise challenged. For many of them, either a full-body scan or an aggressive pat-down can be not only intrusive and embarrassing if forced to be done in public, but physically painful or even dangerous. To tell such people "do it or else" despite their handicaps flies in the face of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    There are better ways to do this, and at the very least there must be better training for TSA employees so that they can handle these situations in a more acceptable way. If we're a decent society, we should require nothing less.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. CincyCat

    Using the Tim McVeigh example, so – because one guy was a nutcase, everyone who rents a moving van needs to undergo full back ground checks and a psychological evaluation? Not only that, but *all* vans should have their contents checked before departure, and at random checkpoints en route to all destinations. That's the least we should do to make sure everyone stays safe, and no one gets blown up by explosives hidden in a van.

    This makes about as much sense as screening millions of innocent travellers to prevent a 1 in 55,000,000 chance that an underwear bomber is on a plane (who travelled in from outside the US, and who the passengers subdued anyway).

    November 23, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Fedup

    Sorry to inform those who actually feel comfortable having radiation scans, they do NOT detect certain liquids and powders used in bombings.
    It was already reported that the powder the "underware bomber" had on his body could NOT be detected by the measures put into place by TSA.
    http://www.dailytech.com/New+Full+Body+Scanners+Cant+Detect+Liquid+Explosives+Properly+say+Experts/article17279.htm
    Unless people are actually willing to do more than read the news to research themselves, you have no idea what we are dealing with. What the news has FAILED to report is the dangers of any type of radiation to pregnant women, cancer patients, or those who have recently battled cancer. Want a clear answer? Ask your doctors the dangers of radiation especially to unborn children or women who are nursing. We are not talking about a single x-ray, we are talking about a full body scan.
    Another thing the media has FAILED to report. TSA agents do NOT change their gloves. I have to ask myself since skin to glove contact is happening from 1 person to the next, why is OSHA not having a field day with this? If someone has any type of contagious skin disorder, they will pass it off. If they come into contact with any body fluids and touch the next person in line, guess what? You're now contaminated. If a TSA agent has his/her hands down your pants, under your underware (esp for you males) if you have genital warts and that glove touches your penis, you have now contaminated everyone that TSA agent touches SKIN TO SKIN! Fact, look it up. It does not have to come into contact with the next person in lines personal area either, merely skin to skin contact will do. Is your personal health worth it?
    Face the facts people, no terrorist has attacked the US on our own soil using a plane since 9/11. I am not saying security measures should not be taken, but they do not need to include our children being touched in personal areas or our personal bodies being exposed to anyone who wishes to see.
    Fact, we should be more concerned with North Korea , now that is a real threat.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. this is dumb

    Are you kidding me? The reason why the poll shows most Americans support it is because most Americans don't even know what a plane is! Normal people don't take trips very often, however I do. And this sucks. I shouldn't have to feel like a criminal every time I want to step foot on an airplane.

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

      If you're not a criminal, nobody can make you feel like one, if you have some self-esteem and don't take all this personally.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  7. dumper

    I'm going to wear an adult diaper on my next flight and take a big dump before going through the scanner because I wonder what that would show as. Then on the return flight I'll do the same thing but request a pat down.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Madarain

    This is what you get...for being afraid. Afraid to fight the real enemy. Afraid to single
    out Muslims and middleeasterners. Afraid to be insensitive. Afraid to be honest. Afraid to tell the truth. Afraid of the ACLU. Afraid of the left. So fork over your rights...because you are too afraid to do anything else.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sigh - seriously?

      Absolutely the most ignorant post yet – what a stupid brainwashed d'bag.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. summermoi

    We are upset when the Government doesn't do enough to prevent things like 911 from occuring and then upset when they attempt to make it right. What are acceptable losses ? Could we live with them if we decide that being patted down or xrayed is too intrusive of an action? Would it be worth the trade off?

    November 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. willdeal

    Opt for the pat down,eat good vegetables and drink milk the day before, and simpy break wind.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sigh - seriously?

    Wow – people are jumping on another bandwagon – waaaaaaa I feel violated, inconvenienced, lack of privacy, freedom, etc. etc. GET OVER IT – you'd be the first ones bleating about inefficient , ineffective TSA if there was an attack.

    It's like all these bandwagons – the Tea Party bunch are exactly the same waaaaaaa cut spending, stop big government, balance the budget but then throw a hissy fit it any military cuts are on the table, farm subsidies affects, Medicare cut or Social Security age pushed upwards.

    The American public are ignorant, hypocritical sheep looking for a bandwagon with nice slogans – they LOVE to be outraged. Pathetic.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Funnypike

    For decades the focus has been on the passengers. And the scanning methods have become more and more intimidating over the years. But Al-Qaida is not interested anymore in sending terrorists as passengers on plains. They start sending packages with bombes on airplanes. Just look on what happened in Europe. Many packages of explosives were transported on passenger airplanes as part of the normal load. Without any scanning. Why bother with smuggling explosives with a person, if a simple air mail package can do the job.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Wes

    While the TSA is busy harrassing traveleres, it appears that a 16 year old boy from Charlotte apparently walked onto the tarmac and got in the wheelwell of a plane. See the story
    http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/11/23/1860627/airport-spokesman-charlotte-teen.html

    Now, how safe are we if people can jst walk up to the plane. TSA is clearly not looking ALL th eplaces they need to be looking.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Brian Paul

    I just miss the days when flying was fun! I can't believe how our country has changed because of the radical muslim idiots. I say give every passenger a gun and lets take our chances.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Helaina Hinson

    I would rather sacrifice some "security" in favor of regaining my freedom.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
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