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. Eric

    Ok, stop all the wining. first and foremost we have an outstanding screening process before the new EXPENSIVE scanners. Is it 100%, no, but then nothing is. We are violating the 4th amendment for what? Lets all grab a grip on reality and start to examine if this is really necessary or is it a waist of our tax dollars?

    November 23, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Leesa

    All that really needs to be said is this. If these scanners and/or pat-downs were in place on 9/11, then it would not have happened. Why when something tragic happens we scream that better measures should have happened, and then when they do you all get up in arms over it ? If you don't like it, don't fly ! Take the train or drive. If there isn't one thing to complain about you all find something else to complain about. The father that removed his child's shirt, they didn't ask him to, but, I'd rather have my child patted down as well as everyone else if it meant safety first !

    November 23, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. EK

    There is far more radiation from plain old sunlight than from any you may receive from a scan. Just riding in an aircraft at 30K feet subjects you to more than a chest xray in two hours. Spend a day on the beach, the radiation from the scan is nothing.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Madinah

    There is nothing to justify, people being treated like dogs.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Allyson Leonard

    I think it's an overblown petty issue. I've gone through a body scan at LAX & never put up a fight. I don't think most TSA employees have ulterior motives when performing pat downs. Yeah, it'll be uncomfortable but it could be effective. Think back to what happened on Christmas of 2009... Also, consider TSA employees when they're being abused by passengers.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. fred Goss

    As usual, this whole TSA thing is predominately trumped up by CNN and other 24 hour news outlets hungry for another big story.

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

    Has anyone else noticed that CNN coverage on the TSA has done a 180 in the past couple days? Trying to convince us we're all just crazy now? Yeah, no.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. charles

    The news organizations are blowing the trumpets now. But these will be the same people who will blow the same trumpets in a different tune if there was a terrorist attack. What do you expect the government to do in order to keep safe the innocent people safe. Americans should learn to live like the Isaeril. When it comes to security there shouldnt be any excemptions. We are living in the different world now. I would welcome any search for the sake of my security or life. Just wakeup and adopt to the new reality. The enemy is so illusive , it will require vigilance and a lot of succrifice. God bless this country. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John T

    That's very fancy stuff y'all got in yer pants! 🙂
    Don't touch me there!
    Seriously, it's way overblown, and if the media didn't turn this into the latest ballloon boy saga, nobody would care.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Billy

    I believe the scanners, and the supposed 'no saving images of scanned passengers' are all a guise to the most extreme form of profiling we've seen so far. Imagine this: A man who looks middle eastern steps in to the nude-o-scope. The TSA agents press a button to alert the image-viewer to 'Detect an anomaly'. They then inform the man that the scanner turned up something, and now they require another scan. The second scan "fails" and its time for the groping. The man is put through more intense screening simply because of the color of his skin.

    The man decides to press charges against the TSA because he felt his rights were violated. He asks for proof that he had anomalies during the two nude-o-scopes, but TSA replies "Sorry, we dont save images. You have to take our word for it".

    IF you are not middle eastern it may not sound so bad. Make the brown people go through more security - thats fine with me! But eventually it will turn in to "If you mouth off to a rude TSA agent, you're going to get the 'Full Treatment!'.

    This happened to me once. I was at a gate waiting for the plane, when a lady at a Contentintal desk was particular rude when I asked her a question. I in turn told her off. She went off and talked to the people performing the searches and pointed in my direction, and I was suddenly "Randomly selected for a search".

    November 23, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  11. gottahandittohim

    Another irresponsible image provided by CNN of the TSA patting down an old lady. Totally inflamatory.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. lance

    muslims are to blame not the tsa. tsa didnt crash planes into buildings folks.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Don't waste your breath!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    Email your Senator!!

    November 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. John P.

    We have to be asking why TSA is using backscatter imaging, which is expensive, potentially harmful and very controversial, instead of chemical detectors which are cheaper and non-intrusive and certainly have a lower risk of health side effects.

    The appearance is that they have chosen the wrong technology, and that is unacceptable.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Lynn

    Hmm. Either having someone watching me naked in the back or having someone touching my private parts. FYI – these TSA agents are in the low paying wage level .. no experience or education required.

    One underwear bomber, therefore they want to search everyone's underwear – in this case feel make sure nothing is there.

    How much are we willing to sacrifice our privacy in the name of security?

    November 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
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