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. God's child

    The terrorist are much smarter then the low paid TSA workers. I feel sorry for these travelers especially the old and people with metal in their body.. I hope one of these days someone walks naked so they won't have to be searched lol..

    November 23, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tom

    Can we start calling it "gate-r@pe"?

    November 23, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • nice try

      been done, you arent clever.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bevil

    Something that I have not seen mentioned is that there may be a good reason for enhanced security right now. We will not necessarily be told everything that intelligence services know in a way that fits the news cycle.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • DB

      You may not be aware of it, but the enemy has already tested bombs concealed within the body. Neither the scanner or the pat down can detect such items. We can only react to the enemy. Anytime we change policy, they try another ploy. The western world has become so risk averse that all they have to do is SAY that they are going to attack a tourist attraction and we shut it down. They don't have to DO anything. All they have to do is threaten. When are we going to learn that we are at war. There are certain risks in today's world. If you try to alleviate all of them, all you're going to do is make yourself a paranoid hermit.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • C B

      This is right on! We know that those protecting us are stopping so much that we are not aware of. Don't make it harder, people, for them to do their job. Not everything is perfect–but get real–the terrorists are real, and we don't have to be told it over and over. Just look at what is happening around the world.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. DavidMichael

    There is no need for Freedom Fondling. The supposed justification for this is the Underwear Bomber. He was able to board a plane in Europe, bound for the U.S., without a passport. His parents notified Intelligence that they were in fear that he would commit an act of violence and he was known to associate with two terrorist groups. Why should I be punished for the sins of airport employees who didn't do even the most simple act....demanding a passport?

    November 23, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dave

    So if I'm a terrorist, I'm now thinking that the only way I'm going to smuggle my weapon aboard is to insert it into my rectum. (Stay with me here for a second.) So, in the name of security, is the TSA going to start inspecting rectums? The answer to this problem has to lie in technology.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Ward

      If a terrorist does that that is exactly what TSA will think they need to do.

      But no terrorist is going to smuggle a bomb up his bum when he can just go blow something else up instead of a plane. Eventually, you won't be able to go into any building other than your house without walking through one of these scanners because after all the terrorist could be anywhere, right?

      November 23, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. emma

    I wish they would stop with the false-choice scenario: would you rather have NO security or pat downs and naked scanners? As if those are the only two choices – when clearly they are not.

    I would like security at airports, and I would like personal human dignity as well. Those do not have to be mutually exclusive. I would like airports with security (metal detectors, drug sniffers, explosive sniffers, etc) but without people touching me in ways I find offensive, and without my naked body image projected onto a screen.

    So please stop reporting these illogical statements posing pretend either/or statements that suggest the only alternative to groping or naked photos is an airport without any security whatsoever.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Zmuda

      Indeed, Emma.

      November 23, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Skip

    CNN is doing a wonderful job of blowing it all up. HNN keeps shoveling it more. Do you have a reporter there watching everyone opting for a "pat-down" in Atlanta? At least you have some real news with N and S Korea today

    November 23, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. al

    Stop complaining. I fly all the time and these pat downs are fine. Accept the fact that sometimes your personal space has to be violated. Embarrased is a lot better than blown up on an airliner. And all the loud people causing problems are just taking TSA attention away from the real threat. So cooperate with a patdown it may not be fun, but it is necessary. Don't compromise the securty and wellbeing of other people just cause you got some personal space issues.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • DB

      Now please explain to us how these measure highten security.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • C B

      I agree. People need to just quit trying to find something to complain about and stop distracting the security!!! A lot of us want to fly safely! Stop playing into the hands of the terrorists! The more yelling is better for them!!! They can do what they want more easily.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • DB

      Actually, refusing to fly is playing into the terrorists hands. They want to cripple our economy. Just like they did at Ground Zero. We spent so much time arguing about what to build there that businesses shut down or moved out. Now we have the choice of being invasively searched or not flying. Either way, they win. You've either given up another freedom or you're putting another person out of a job. Besides the airline employees, there are the staff at the airport, the people who own businesses around the airport, and the tourist/service industries at your destination. Nice work, TSA!

      November 23, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Thersa

    Where were you when Bush started wiretapping phones?

    November 23, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Fallout

    You are all a bunch of whining pansies. You'll get a pat-down and like it!

    November 23, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Corninyourwallace

      When you are sterilized and have cancer... just know you asked for it after grabbing your ankles

      November 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Howard

    This is a much bigger issue than our disgust with scanners and pat downs. This is another step in Obama's indoctrination, to get Americans used to subservience and obedience. We are being gradually transformed into citizens who will even allow government workers to grope ours and our loved ones genitals. It's like boiling a frog. If the government increases the heat little by little, the frog doesn't notice it, until it's too late. Our rights and our resources are being robbed by Obama and his dictatorial policies. We must not loose our individual rights to this corrupt regime !!!

    November 23, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Zmuda


      Stop listening to AM radio and Glenn Beck. It is damaging your brain. There is still hope for you. Use your own brain for a change, and see that the world isn't some big conspiracy. It's just run by greedy and heartless people who profit from people like you believing everything you hear from a wingnut. They laugh at you over cigars and golf.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • SJErik

      Howard - seriously? You don't see that Bush was even worse, and that he set a precedent that Obama now feels he must follow lest he be branded "soft" on terrorism by the right wing propaganda machine? I sincerely believe that Obama is not personally in favor of these searches (since it's unpatriotic and illogical), however, he is being scared into supporting them by people just like you.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Breanna

    Dunno exactly why it won't let me post this. Weird.

    I seem to remember George Carlin, years and years ago, predicting the failstorm that this is when he said something like "Americans are always willing to trade away a little of their freedom for the feeling, the illuuuusion, of safety." The people who go along with it are now doubly funny because of stories like this with misleading and outdated statistics, yet they still cling to it and start screaming FEAR FEAR FEAR. Ever wonder why the news is full of that stuff, it's because at least half the public wants it so they have something to complain about and live in paranoia over.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Vicki

    Right after 9/11, we all would have agreed to anything to protect us from a re-occurance. It's been 9 years, so now we've started griping again. Dogs and metal detectors have proven to be insufficient to stop guys like the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber. If we check everyone getting on a plane, we will be as close to guranteeing safety as we can get. If we don't check everyone (and that means letting some people through because of age or infirmity, it's pointless to check anyone because terrorists have and will use handicapped people, children, and anyone they can. So we can whine and gripe about it, but we have to choose. Do we want to do everything possible to ensure that we and our children don't get blown up or crashed into a building – or don't we. So either we check everyone or we don't bother checking anyone. Make up your minds, but don't cry when some crazy in a wheel chair or a C4-filled prosthetic takes down a plane carrying someone you love.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fallout


      November 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • DB

      Okay, what do we do about the guy who smuggles it onboard INSIDE his body? What then? Colonoscopies at the gate?

      November 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vicki

      I didn't say it was a 100% guarantee, but it's as close as as humanly possible.

      November 24, 2010 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
  14. Steve

    I only want to know if they would arrest me for showing up at the airport in my speedoos or better yet, in flip flops and a towel wrapped around my the end of the day all they need to see is that I am not carrying any weapons right???they don't need to touch me if I go commando in front of them right???I do it anyway every summer at the nude beach, why not at the airport???

    November 23, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  15. lolwut?

    Am I to understand that increased safety measures mean that the terrorists win? And if we decrease our safety measures, the terrorists win?

    Here's a solution: offer two types of planes. One on which everyone has been thoroughly scanned or patted down and the other with the security measures in place before last December. Then have the people choose which flight they would rather take. End of argument.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Ward

      There's be only one guy on each of the pat down planes and he'd be terrified one of the other planes was going to ram his.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
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