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. Billy

    Tell all of the abortion doctors murdered by Christian nut jobs that Muslims are the terrorists.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Lov it

    P.S. Every TSA agent I've run into have been professional, and polite and no more intrusive than they have to be. They explain what the are going to do before they do it, just like in your doctor's appt. They are doing the best they can. Don't let rare bad apples color your whole experience.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Angela

    Ok, honesly, if I need to get patted, wanded, frisked, etc, to make sure that I make it safely from point A to point B, then so be it. If something were to happen and it turns out that it could have been avoided had extra security measures been taken, think of that tragedy and the outrage of the American people. I would rather be inconvenienced and safe than convenienced and blown to bits. People need to start getting their priorities straight.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • jps

      You're right. We should do this sort of thing any time people gather in large numbers - football games, the mall, even office building. Yeah, before you go to work every day.

      Flying is not the most dangerous thing we do. But it is how the terrorists got us, so that's where all the ridiculous measures are being put into place. Next time, they'll pick another method, and we'll lose our freedom and dignity in some other part of our lives.

      Grow up and accept risk. Living causes dying.

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

      You're right, too. It COULD happen anywhere else. Look what happened in London. I don't think they're rediculous measures. I fly pretty frequently and I feel better knowing that everyone is being checked just like me.

      The reason the terrorists chose flying is because millions of people fly every day around the world and it was one of the ways they could do the most damage.

      There's a difference between accepting risk and playing with thousands, if not millions, of peoples lives. If you want to take a risk, go to the casino. But I don't want you deciding my fate because you are afraid to be scanned. If you don't want to be frisked or scanned that's fine. It's your choice. Take a bus, they won't bother you there.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Pat Down

    I support pat down. We must win this war against breast cancer and testicular cancer!

    November 23, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lee Oates

    The comedy goes on.....

    November 23, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JSmith

    Why is CNN trying to minimize the public OUTRAGE at the TSA and Obama for allowing this agency to continue to exist. Since 9/11 frequent travelers have rolled their eyes at the stupid rules that are being put in place (e.g. restricting liquids to 100ml, when 10 terrorists on the same flight could bring on 10x that amount), and we just put up with it. This is the final straw...we have had enough...none of these STUPID rules have prevented a terrorist attack. The terrorists have won...they have got us to terrorize ourselves.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • SafeNotAfraid

      Because there IS no public outrage... 80% of Americans have no issue with these additional security measures. It's the whiny, NIMBY, 20% that are hogging the spotlight.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. France

    Recently diagnosed with cancer, I now worry about more exposure to xrays. Doctors express concern for my need for regular, repeated diagnostic tests and the possibility of cancer-causing over-exposure. I understand that the dosage of the back-scatter xray is supposed to be very small, but what if a machine malfunctions? Who tests and calibrates these machines? And how many times has the government reversed its position on scientific needs and requirements ... I remember when cigarettes weren't considered dangerous, and celebrex and hormone replacements were "safe". I didn't like it years ago when they started going through my packed luggage and handling my underwear. How do you think I'll feel about someone handling my underwear when I'm wearing it??? This offends my sensitivities and sensibility, but I am out of acceptable options.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Flying at Xmas

    The TSA provides pat-downs from agents of the same gender, but have they explained WHO is looking at our scans? Is it an open room with people walking in and out with all of the monitors in clear view to everyone? As a woman, I would feel better about choosing to go with a scan over a pat-down if I could be assured that it was a female agent, and only one agent, looking at my scan.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Curtis Mitchell

    I hope you do realize that the terrorists are laughing at us. We are playing right into their hands.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. TP Kale

    There you go CNN, all about trying to get American's to accept more and more of socialist tyranny. Yep, its for your own good, here take this pill.

    Your figures are wrong, most Americans are sick and tired of the US Government, they are the enemy.

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

      Socialist? I think it more akin to Fascism in it's right wing underpennings.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Shawn

    I am so tired of people using the word 'gropped' or 'foundled'. there is not grabbing of junk or breasts. C'mon people, grow up. As a former police officer with the military, i was trained to search people just like these TSA agents. There is none of that going on and is well communicated during training. Also, the agents are just as uncomfortable doing these as well. I had to evern watch people urinate in cups, never had one complaint. I don't here these people complaining about Police Officers during searches which is done the same way. No law suits or complaining. Now found something else to complain about.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shawn

      sorry for all the mispellings...at work and typed too fast.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. SparkedFire

    What about the storing of naked images of your body. These machines have the ability to store images. What makes you think the government wont store them. Use them for "research". Advertisements are relayed back to you to sell procedures or implants to fix what the cloths cover up. Remember, the Orlando federal courthouse was storing the real and naked images of people. What about the images of children?

    November 23, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Lp

    Overblown, I think.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jon

    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

    -Benjamin Franklin

    And. I concur.

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

      Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.
      – Benjamin Franklin

      Concur this, dork.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Carl Anderson

    Its very simple the TSA HAS TO RACIALLY PROFILE END OF STORY. The Trade Center and every other attempted attack have not been made by White Skinned female American Citizens. They have been made by, MALE ARABIC or MIDDLE EASTERNERS.
    They should be X-rayed, patted down, and given a full cavity search. For once lets do the right thing and quit harrassing regular American Citizens.

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