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. pditty

    I am sick of one set of rules for we the people and another set for we the law makers.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. TheBigSarge

    overblown...this gives the libra-tardians the excuse that they need to inflict more rules and regulations on their subjects in order to increase the erosion of freedom. much like the overblown bird-flu pandemic which got president odorka the votes he and duncy pelosi needed to force health care "reform" down everybody's throats.

    yes, there is a serious and real threat out there, but we need to quit being so politically correct that we strip war heros of their Medal of Honor if they want to fly, but we allow those who fit the PROFILE (oops! i said it) as a RADICAL of any nation or religion.

    -TheBigSarge

    November 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken

      Problem with the libratardian arguement...George Bush! TSA is part of the Homeland Security department which was the lame brainchild of King George II.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Liberals made up the bird flu? Please stop drinking the Koo Aid and pay attention. Donald Rumsfeld, part of the Bush administration, made barrels of money from bird flu because he is a major stock holder in the company that makes Tamiflu.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. SeriouslyRUKidding

    More of a joke than the effectiveness (which is minimal) of these scanners is the notion that 81% of Americans actually favor their use. I'd like to see what percentage of Americans that actually travel by plane really support their use, not the percentage that refuse to even leave their own town and are probably polishing their shotguns while sitting in their Lazy-Boy, all the while shouting something along the lines of, "down with the Reds," or , "Nuke 'em!"

    November 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • AMC1998

      Agreed. Who in the world are these people polling, anyway?!

      November 23, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      I support the extra security 100% and fly about 4 times a week. The loud mouth idiots like yourself that have created this story should find a different way to travel if this is not for you. Pretty simple.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • SeriouslyRUKidding

      *whisper* Ben, do the people on the plane know you're sending this right now? Oh well, doesn't bother me; I'm sitting behind you and watched you type it in the first place. Enjoy your flight. 😉

      November 23, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • RuFkngKdngMe

      Name thief. Seriously. Get your own damn nick.

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

      Thats why Polls are notoriously unreliable. I can construct a poll that is worded in any way that I want the outcome to favor, ie:

      Q: How do you feel about the scanners?

      1. Everyone stop complaining ! They are just fine and I feel safe.
      2. I trust the government but I think they could use some work.
      3. It doesn't matter to me if I die in a plane crash, see my loved ones burn, or kill innocents on the ground. It doesnt matter if I will never see my loved ones again. These scanners are devices of Satan and I'm never getting in one even if it is to save them.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samuel

      I agree.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • USMC 00001

      Is it too much to ask to want to arrive alive after be stationed away from home for so long. I fly all the time being in the military and going home is a very special thing. You sound more like an armchair quarterback spouting your nonsense. Grow up. Maybe being in the military would teach you a little about order and discipline.

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

      Most sane people would welcome the scanner. Its quick and easy. Those of you who would opt out for the "pat-down" are probably out for a quick thrill. Admit it. But make all the noise you want you`re gonna get one or the other.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. 12970

    Since they have not caught anyone with these "advanced procedures" they can not really be called security. The next attack on the US will not be by plane, that is so yesterday. If you feel safer because you were virtually searched or groped before getting on a plane more power to you.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Frank

    This article infers there are fewer complaints then the press indicates. In reality there would be a lot more complaints if the TSA was not threatening everyone with hefty fines if you disrupt things. The average citizen will not challenge anything in fear of this, plus the delays getting to your plane since there is paperwork. Also, who do you complain to in the security area? TSA certainly does not have complaint desks setup. Finally, they do not allow photos or video – so we are missing a lot of events that go unreported. How convenient, as they reminded us all yesterday – after the video of the shirtless boy showed up.

    TSA is a government agency out of control doing what they want. There is no watchdog here. I am still puzzled how anyone with common sense could have approved scanners that use radiation to take naked images of common American citizens. Most Americans live in fear of cancer and we are generally a modest society – the TSA scanner wipe out both. Obama needs to act quickly to adjust the scanning approach (for example random scanning) and get a watchdog in place ASAP to monitor.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keats

      Person who approved it is now working for the same company. Michael Chertoff.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Wzrd1

    w w w.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/09/28/eveningnews/main5347847.shtml
    A small indicator as to what is coming next.
    Guess what they'll want to search next?

    November 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • no CNN

      when are people going to learn that you can't live your life in a glass bubble. Making more stringent security only makes the method of evasion worse. Pretty soon the only way they're going to get a bomb in is by sticking it inside a baby. Then are we going to have our babies x-rayed? When does it stop?

      November 23, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. AMC1998

    I do object to these scans, and for a lot of the reasons people have given. TSA agents are not trained professionals. The scanners have the ability to record ("it is turned off" does not satisfy me at all). It is unnecessarily invasive. I've read about all of the items confiscated, etc, but I've not heard of any plot that the scanners thwarted that would not have otherwise detected using less invasive means. Where is the evidence that these things work significantly better? Yes, they're more visual, but that's about it, in my opinion.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Sean M

    Perhaps this current furor is simply a proxy issue for the public to vent their anger at how throughly unpleasant air travel has become.

    Beyond the unavoidable air travel stress of being herded around like sheep, strapped into uncomfortable seats with strangers for hours and being forced to take orders without questions for that entire time, we have uncomfortable airports; ever shrinking legroom; long security lines & associated disrobing & discomfort, uncaring & often overly officious airline/airport staff; the uncertainty of increasing nickel and dime style fare add-ons for luggage & meals; food court overcharging.. the list keeps growing.

    Now this new misery from the TSA. Is it really a surprise that people are going off the deep end? They are fed up with it all.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. MB

    How many successful airplane-based terrorist attacks on domestic flights have occurred within the U.S. since September 11? That was over nine years ago. It was a terrible, horrible thing, but the TSA acts like we'll all be blowed up if we don't submit to a gross invasion of privacy, and that claim has no merit, plain and simple.

    Who are you people who don't care about your privacy? The illusion of "safety" is more important to you than basic human rights? Just how far will you accept the government going to "protect" us from a threat that is miniscule, in the grand scheme of things?

    You may think being scanned or groped is "no big deal", and that's great for you. But there are plenty of people out there for whom it IS a big deal. People who have been assaulted or molested, for one. You suggest that the reasonable alternative is to choose not to fly? That's not always possible. Why should people be forced to make that kind of choice, anyway? This is supposed to be a free country. Our government isn't supposed to be able to physically manhandle us whenever they choose, and threaten, intimidate, or even arrest us when we resist.

    I would rather go back to pre-scanner security methods, which have not allowed one successful terrorist attack on domestic U.S. flights, then give away any more of our freedom and dignity for the sake of false "security". Those who feel otherwise should move to China or some other country that doesn't respect the rights of its citizens. As Americans, we're supposed to be better than this.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Francis D'assisi

      I cannot help but notice that my preffered media: Slate, NY Times and my good old CNN are all on the same line regarding groping and scanners:
      it is for your own good, everything is fine, only wackos can be against safety....

      It is also clear that they take a good (and well earned) beating from their own public who obviously thinks differently.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Nate

    Studies done by Islamic universities have shown that around 10% of muslims support violent jihad. Now, 10% may not seem like much but there are over 1 billion muslims, so that is over 100 million people in the world who support Islamic terrorism.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. NSL

    The article asks the right questions; 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?

    Unfortunately, in most publications, and on my sites, we're not getting a comprehensive answer to these questions, and all too often getting little or no useful information for us to answer these questions. I'll hit each one briefly.

    1. It seems clear to me that TSA and Homeland Security have decided Americans don't have 4th Amendment Rights when flying or in airports.

    2. We don't know if the scanners are safe. There is mounting evidence that TSA has seriously underestimated the amount of irradiation the x-ray scanners dose our skin. One can find no independent study of the effects of the terahertz waves we are subjected to in MMW scanners. The bottom line is TSA should halt use of these scanners until an independent panel of physicians and scientists confirm their safety.

    3. The scanners were purchased to detect another "panty bomber." The trouble is, due to the density of PETN in power form, the scanners aren't capable of detecting that explosive, in that form, or others like it. In other words they don't work. They can't perform the job for which they were purchased. The scanners also can't detect explosives secreted in body cavities.

    4. TSA has to limit the scope of the pat-down, and their aggressiveness in performing them. Pat-down should be limited to finding such items as guns, knives and other similar dangerous contraband. Put in explosive sniffing dogs to find explosives. The dogs can do the job the scanners can't perform.

    5. Who should get the pat-downs...people chosen through psychological profiling (not religious or racial profiling which would be counter-productive).

    November 23, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Angel

    Ok – I for one will not fly. The terrorist have succeeded in making us run scared. I remember when all this started, I could not even walk my daughter w/her grandbaby to the gate. I cried like crazy. I for one, respect my body and I don't want anyone touching, who shouldn't be touching it. Problem is, our society is so morally degraded, we have no modesty, morality....we are falling down the rabbit hole of sin. But terrorist have us right where they want us. What do you think is next....full strip search and spread your legs baby! Personally, I see "we the people" being more manipulated and regulated and montiored and screened and on and one...and we accept it....Why! We are losing our freedom, but most people are in denial of this.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Vishwa

    This is insane..I understand the terrorist threat but adopting such a old-stone age method to check people is really stupid

    November 23, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. WarEagle

    Too bad Jack Bauer's not around anymore........

    November 23, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Realist

    Airline screening is a defensive action. The bombers are the offensive action. The defense is visible, known, The offense is not visible, its form is unknown, and it can choose where and how and when it strikes. This is basic stuff.
    As a result, the defense (screening) has to constantly improve to keep ahead.
    Bottom line, get used to increases in the defense, until the damage to society from screening becomes unacceptable.
    The TSA guys aren't perfect, that's for sure, but let's remember who the real bad guys are.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • mkey

      It's ALREADY unacceptable! Or maybe you'd like to wait till it gets to the point where you are running down the tarmac to your plane with the sigmoidoscopy scope the TSA agent just shoved up you in an effort to detect any plastic encased pipe bombs?!

      November 23, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vishwa

      Hehehe hahaha

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