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. Tami

    A police state erected for the benfit of "peoples safety". Hold onto the railing because that slippery slope comes out of nowhere and fast. It will be hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened

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

    I flew over the summer from Tampa to Detroit not having flown in years I expected some security surprises but not like I received. I was subjected to the full body scan which I was perfected fine with, then I was patted down but only around the waist. I found this procedure disturbing. I asked why I was searched around the waist, and was never answered. The woman behind me was patted down as well but my mother who was in front of me and the man two people behind me were not patted down.
    The other issue I have is the pat downs being done in public. If you are going to reach inside my pants, I want some form of privacy, please. The public humiliation of a pat down is a bigger issue.

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

      Get real. No one is going to be reaching inside your pants unless you are hiding something in which someone reaching inside your pants won't be your biggest problem.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • jon

      You are a prime example of something that make no sense. Randomly picking out only 3% of the traveling public makes it better odds than Vegas for a possible terrorist. Sorry you had to go through that. It is now that we are all guilty until proven innocent. Great!

      November 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. P Rodgers

    I believe that our own government is responsible for the latest bomb scares. If you scare people enough, then their willing to hand over their personal liberties without no questions asked. I also believe that if these latest thwarted bomb scares would not have been effective at people willing to hand over their personal liberties, then the government would be forced to carry it to the next level and have a passenger plane blown up and killing everybody on board to send their message across.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. PJAFL

    This whole issue is to totally overblown.

    Don't want to be scanned or checked – stay home.

    I have not had the occasion to pass through one of the new naked body scanners but as a senior citizen, very slightly overweight, if someone ever gets their jollies from looking at my image they need to get a life.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Hunter

    Just went through screening at Logan, it is no big deal really. Spent less than 5 min with the process.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Forrestal

      You're probably an adult who doesn't take it personally.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. doc fallin

    The best solution to this problem was suggested in the early seventies by Archie Bunker : as each passenger boards the airplane....issue them a gun. In fact update it to a taser ...and let's see some one set their underwear on fire when mom,pop,lil' jr. and granny have a taser in hand....(IN THE FACE,YEAH!)....but the real blame for airline hijackings , should be placed where it belong's...on Rod Serling...who wrote a skript about it(Twilight Zone)...and lo and behold....If you had polled the American Public a week after 9/11...we would all be flying nude today.....

    November 23, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Manuel J.

    The only people that appear to be complaining are those that DO NOT travel often OR those ONLY traveling once or twice a year.

    Also, the American memory is very short (i.e. 9/11, Shoe Bomber, Underwear Bomber....).

    November 23, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Red

    TSA – "Opt Out" remedy – Use a separate single lane right after the ID check for those who wish to OPT OUT tomorrow. If they choose to opt out and get the pat down instead of the body scanner by choice then they can wait in their own single line! Do not combine those of us who just want to get to Grandma's house with those who need to make a statement.
    For those who choose to stay in the regular line and wait to the last minute and request the "opt out" to try and cause disruption and delays, then guess what? They get to go back to the end of the separate opt out line.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jon

    Kaiser Soce, Kaiser Soce!! Now that someone has made millions upon millions of dollars on these scanners – guess who? – I suppose we will have to use them. NOT!

    November 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. T Lyman

    When TSA agents travel home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, are they scanned and groped or do they get to bypass "security?" Most of the TSA agents that I've encountered need to be scanned more than anyone else. The same goes for Janet Napolitano. I the rest of us have to submit to these ridiculous measures, so should they. What happens if everyone just refuses to fly until these invasive and ridiculously ineffective measures are eliminated? End of the airlines?

    November 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark0

      I hear the Pat Down training is very extensive. 6 weeks for 8 hours a day. And, you have to make a 100 on the test.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • no CNN

      More wasted time and money. What exactly do they test you on? How to use circular motions instead of just wiping?

      November 23, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jaxax

      What's a 100, ball touch?

      November 23, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Coylepeninsula

      Get real. I fly every week, and because I follow the rules have never been subject to additional screening. Its real simple, except for the simple minded who think they can bring on liquids, sharp objects, or other banned items. I don't like everything the TSA does (like not having enough lanes open during rush hours), but they're doing their jobs. You're the kind of person that would most likely squak about Obama's incompetence if a security breach did occur. Fly a 100,000 in my shoes, and then come back and tell me how you feel.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim in NC

      ..."End of the airlines"

      Ya, good luck with that. Enjoy your road trip, ttraffic snarls, and accidents while the rest of us fly and enjoy an extra day or so with our families.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lp

      I agree with Coyle, I don't fly as much but that's the price I'll have to pay for that type of travel...you don't like it take a train for drive. The first time something slips through if the measures are taken away, then everyone will be calling for blood. It boils down to if we want to be safe or not.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snowman-z

      I guess it's time to call "uncle" on this and remove all airport screening. Let the passengers screen each other. I'm sure there won't be any racial, age, or gender profiling then.
      We should also open the carry-on baggage flood gates as well and allow any carry-on bag you want. As soon as the last passanger passes through the door, close the door and take off. Have an issue with someone elses bag hitting you in the head during turbulence, then take care of it yourself because there won't be any flight attendants on this flight. When the plane lands, the door opens and you get out – no need to thank the pilot for the nice flight because there are none since the plane was flown remotely.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • domeunit

      Does CNN work for TSA? Because all I see from them is how it's "no big deal"...perhaps checking the thousands of people making comments on the negative aspects may convince them, but nope...it's "bandwagon anger", how about we're tired of the government stepping all over us?

      November 23, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Red

    TSA – "Opt Out" remedy – Use a separate single lane right after the ID check for those who wish to OPT OUT tomorrow. If they choose to opt out and get the pat down instead of the body scanner by choice then they can wait in their own single line! Do not combine those of us who just want to get to Grandma's house with those who need to make a statement.
    For those who choose to stay in the regular line and wait to the last minute and request the "opt out" to try and cause disruption and delays, then guess what? They get to go back to the end of the separate opt out line.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • da

      Totally agree.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • smith66

      +1

      November 23, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • JulieTravel

      Red that is the absolute perfect solution! And I really hope those that opt out have left enough time for their flights because I'd also propose that airlines charge a nice hefty rebooking fee to those folks (TSA can indicate so on the ticket when they go thru security). Those who can follow the rules and not cause trouble get to grandma's house, those who can't might make it in time for the pumkin pie if they are lucky and the airlines get a little extra in the process.

      And you know these same people are the ones who can't seem to remember to empty their pockets of metal objects, put their cell phone thru with their carryons, wear a huge belt they "forgot" to take off and can't read the sign that says laptops our to the case and Shoes in a separate bin... so getting them in a separate line will make things much faster for everyone!

      November 23, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • eric

      Hopefully TSA is reading this Blog and does something like this tomorrow

      November 23, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim in NC

      Absolutely!!

      Feel free to make your statement, and get felt up, but let the rest of us who are fine with NOT having TSA-hands all over us go on our merry ways. Enjoy!

      November 23, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lp

      That I agree with, the procedure needs to run smoother...If people didn't want to get into problems with the TSA agents and just get x-rayed or searched, then I'm sure it would...But we know how we Americans are..lol

      November 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Houston

    Have you seen half the people in airports these days. I need everyone to be screened if I'm flyinfg with my family. These days you cannot tell who is who anymore. People are walking onto military bases and schools and opening fire. It might be an inconvenience, let TSA do what they have to do to keep us safe, because God forbid something goes wrong, TSA are the first to blame. Damn if they do, Damn if they dont.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • MAG Houston

      Come on..use your head for 5 seconds and think about this. Have you looked around in a movie theatre or a shopping mall or a football stadium at the diverse array of folks there? Are you saying you're willing to get irradiated or groped by some guy in a uniform every time you want to see a movie, do some shopping,or go to a ball game? We take tiny chances with our lives every time we go out in public. Quit being a paranoid crybaby willing to sacrifice your personal dignity just to be granted the illusion of safety.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phinius

      MAG Houston why don't you use *your* head? Aircraft filled with fuel and make flying
      bombs for terrorists. They can kill thousands with one and that is why we have
      attempts at preventing their use as such..

      November 23, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • LEB

      No, the Department of Homeland Security would be the first to blame for not having the intel that there is a terrorist plot underway. The TSA should be the very, very, very LAST line of defense, not the first.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mika

      The problem is, the TSA scanners and pat-downs are worthless when done by folks who don't know what to look for and don't care to. I wish El Al would fly domestically. Their effective line of questioning and behavioral observations, as well as armed marshals on every flight are less offensive to me than the TSA doofuses doing our scans and pat-downs.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Omaha

      Cars also weigh thousands of pounds and can be used as a bomb, should we also screen everybody on the on ramp to the interstate?

      November 23, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mr Phil

      Really Mika? You'd rather go through Israeli interrogations for EVERY flight. You do realize that this method also means no curbside check-in or printing out your boarding passes from the internet in advance right? Every passenger has to physically get their boarding passes at the desk and gets questioned going into the airport and while standing in line. Don't get me wrong, I think their procedures are very effective, but I'm fairly certain the American public would whine about this procedure as well. Face it, we are a country of crybabies so nothing will please everyone.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really?

      Phinius come on let's think a bit more about your statement... there are plenty of other things that could be as attractive as an airline. Fuel trucks have lots of gasoline in them too, and anyone could easily hijack one of those and blow it up in a mall, school, or sports stadium. Terrorists can also make their own bombs... and let's not even think about how many thousands of Americans die every year from smoking, car accidents, heart attacks, aids, etc. If our government was really trying to protect us, cigarettes would be illegal, fast food would be healthy, and cars would be banned.

      The TSA provides a very small level of security... and unless you want to be cavity searched at some point, you should pay more attention to what is happening right in front of your eyes.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Samuel

    What people don't realize is this is a precedent and precursor to more invasion of privacy. Just remember today its a few people being scanned. Tomorrow everyone will be scanned. After that, scanners will be in place at schools, malls, grocery stores, and the list can go on.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Samuel, many high schools already require everyone to go through metal detectors before they can enter the building. Same with every federal office building and court house. I am waiting for the TSA to set up a security checkpoint at the elementary school my daughter attends!
      If you want an idea about how idiotic this has all become, back to the early 90s when we still had submarine crew flights between the US and Scotland, the crew were required to go through the metal detectors, have our bags x-rayed, etc. We are not talking about random civilian passengers. We are talking about the crew of a ballistic missile nuclear submarine. 160 people who have been fully vetted by every security and investigative service in the United States. The only people on the flight who were not submariners with completed background checks and security clearances were the flight crew but we still had to go through the same procedures that tourists going to Aruba or Mazatlan had to do.
      Now it has only gotten worse. When I was still living in airports on an almost weekly basis, I used to carry my "fanny pack" for every flight just to have a place to put all the stuff that needed to go through the metal detector so I didn't forget anything! My laptop and projector have been swiped for explosive residue more times than I can count. Whenever my knee was really acting up and I had to use my brace, I used to wear extremely loose legged pants to facilitate pat-downs that I would always end up going through. They practically disassembled my daughter's stroller one time when we flew with her.
      In my mind's eye, things are getting worse now.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snowman-z

      Sam Sam Sam,
      I guess it's time to call "uncle" on this and remove all airport screening. Let the passengers screen each other. I'm sure there won't be any racial, age, or gender profiling then.
      We should also open the carry-on baggage flood gates as well and allow any carry-on bag you want. As soon as the last passanger passes through the door, close the door and take off. Have an issue with someone elses bag hitting you in the head during turbulence, then take care of it yourself because there won't be any flight attendants on this flight. When the plane lands, the door opens and you get out – no need to thank the pilot for the nice flight because there are none since the plane was flown remotely.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • mstallk

      I'm pretty ripped. I'd be happy to show it off. I can only hope

      November 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samuel

      Snowman-z,
      Your response seems mindless to me. Clearly I am not saying we should not have security at the airport. If I must break it down for you further, the point is this it will only be a matter of time when the government uses this precedent to invade of other aspects of our privacy. If you do not get this point then responding back to you is pointless.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. patrick Henderson

    WHERE ARE THE MEDIA PROS OF OLD; HAVE THEY ALL GONE?
    Our apparent designated national week of whining about "scanning &-pat-downs”, led by the so- called respectable national media, and of course usual radio and cable demagogues, underscore we are just a nation of slogans: we're number one, and are toughest guys on the block. However, when time comes to show our mettle, the national media leads us to our ever ready stance to erupt in puerile complaint.
    God forbid, that a plane fell from the sky for the media to grow up and responsibly explain reasons for certain government actions instead of exploiting people’s confusion. For example, have any of these national anchors ever thought terrorists could use prosthetics to hide explosives? Regardless, the question of media leadership is so terribly lacking in this and other areas of national import the question has to be asked; where are the media pros, reporters, and producers of old? Are they all gone?

    November 23, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Michael

    The irrational fear that rules this entire country is astounding! Go ahead then everyone, keep your heads down and follow your leaders blindly while your rights are taken away from you.

    Those of you who think people are protesting because they're "inconvenienced" don't get it at all. Where does this security stop? When they finally have cameras and body scanners in your homes? It's the familiar proverb "If you put a frog in boiling water, he'll jump right out. But if you put him in warm water and slowly increase the heat, he'll boil to death."

    Look at how much money and effort we spend towards "preventing" terrorist attacks. How many people have died all together in terrorist attacks in America? Easily less than 10,000. How many people die yearly from drunk driving related accidents?? More people die from influenza on a yearly basis than have died in all terrorist attacks combined!!!!!

    You have a 1 in 25 MILLION(!!) chance of dying in a terrorist attack (Wall Street Journal study conducted BEFORE these scanners were introduced). That is statistically identifyable as 0. irrational fear. However, if you're so afraid of being the victim of a terrorist attack that you're willing to give your basic freedoms away, remember that flying is a privelege and YOU DRIVE to your destination. The rest of us will take our 1 in 25 million chance with the metal detectors. You can take your 1 in 83 chance of dying in a car accident.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Billy

      Well said Michael. Here are some more numbers:

      Chance of being killed by lightning: 1 in 2,650,000.
      Chances of winning a single state lottery: 1 in 18,000,000
      Chances of dying in a car accident: 1 in 18,585

      November 23, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • halfmoonkid

      Great comment and like you said to give away our rights to the chance of the plane being blown up is ridiculious. The underwear bomber was on the no fly list and his own dad told them to not let him on the flight but they still did not catch him. The same goes for the time square bomber was on the no fly list and they did not stop him. So the scanner will not to much more than create trouble and take away my freedom of not being violated.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
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