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. Jon

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

    -Benjamin Franklin

    I wholeheartedly agree.

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

      Amen. Where is Ben now that we need him.

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

      Ben didn't have 747s blowing up in his back yard.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Shane

    If you need these measure to make you 'feel' safe, then by all means stay home, or drive, take a bus, a train....walk you probably could use the exersice, but for chrissakes, stop whining and wimpering with fear in the corner with fear that causes these 'procedures'

    Again, let the rest of fly without all this nonsense, I trust my fellow man enough and the odds ARE worth it to perserve dignity, sanity and above all strenght/courage....otherwise there will be no end to this fear mongering, raising the temperature that will bind you and grind you to knee at their feet....there IS an agenda behind this.

    .....YOU drive.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Laudan Espinoza

    The lady said, "something in his pants that would have needed to be resolved....." Yeah.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Winston

    Anyone who says that the government should be allowed to do anything as long as it "keeps us safe," has the mental capacity of a child.

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

      So seat belt laws, gun laws, pollution laws should just be thrown out the window just because it's an inconvenience to you?

      November 23, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. LAW

    I agree with everything NSL said but would add one thing to point number five. Post armed guards at every security checkpoint. This along with phychological profiling would be a far more effective deterrent for terrorists.

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

    Surprise - people really ARE outraged. At least the people who fly are. As well we should be - all of us. I don't believe these ridiculous measures are making any of us safer. The device they were meant to detect is still undetectable!

    As has been pointed out, we don't subject people to these kinds of searches just to go in the mall or see a movie. Yet.

    Maybe I shouldn't have said that.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Corinithia

    My husband is in a wheelchair, and has a metal rod in his back – he can't go through the scanners, so he has to go through the pat down, and if he is to hurt to get out of his wheel chair that day, they are pretty mean about it. In Hawaii it took them 1/2 hour to search his chair, pat him down, and then wipe it with those stupid pieces of paper they put in a machine. All this time he is in the center of the TSA area, for all to see...

    It also means our family goes through this so we can stay together, it is not a political statement – but a fact of life for people with medical conditions that can't go through the scanners, cancer survivors, people with artificial parts – it is more than inconvenient, it is public humiliation of the handicapped.

    As for the guy who says his flown all the time and had no problem, just luck, I've been pulled for the random search where they take you to a room and two people completely hand search you, stripping would be quicker - and my two kids and a niece were left without adult supervision outside of the room while this went on.

    It is complete bull

    November 23, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • berational

      This is a great example of what is wrong with TSA.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jules

    I think the TSA should have a radiologist on hand to look at my full body-scan when I fly tomorrow. He/She can see if I have anything wrong with me then bill my health insurance carrier for a screening. Healthcare on the fly (pun intended), it’s a win-win.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  9. berational

    Coylepeninsula: Maybe because you have had so much experience with this you no longer see the silliness, for example la TSA agent looking at a driver's license for 5 minutes from every angle without saying a word while the line of travelers builds and builds at a very busy airport or taking the TSA agent who removes a small nail clipper out of a women's purse. It is a poorly performing system that has never been improved in 9 years. The only measure of performance for TSA is not reoccurrence of terrorism it is also the efficiency with which they perform there job.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. NRMD

    TSA, What a waste. A prime example of no recovery for America from anything. We blow things out of proportion and expect every thing is fine. No way. Stop this nonsense and rebuild America by creating production jobs not TSA kind of jobs.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. notborncynical

    Flying has become such an enormous hassle, in part due to the ridiculous security measures practiced, that unless it's a family members funeral we just don't fly. We got tired of not having any control over our travel while flying that it's worth it to take an extra day off and just drive. We're in control (generally), no invasive pat downs, no headaches. What I'd really like to see is high speed railway travel. True, some of the security measures would still be there but you won't be trapped in an airport overnite or missing events/meetings because you're flight was delayed. Oh, the pat down's are very dehumanizing by the way – I think that's what people hate most about them.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Carson

    I think most of this is coming from knee jerk sheep. They hear a bunch of complaining, then need to be a part of the imagined majority. But the reality is this will not ensure anymore security than other techniques. So enough people complain about hands on their bra wire or "package", TSA employees get instructed to avoid those areas, and guess where the IED is going to be hidden once terrorists adapt to this new system?? We should be willing to embrace the security of ourselves and our families; not pull out the repressed card.
    Those points aside, I do find it interesting that everyone is blaming the TSA and it's actions. If this were a couple years ago, the outrage over the Bush administrations intrusion into our rights would echo across the country. Why aren't these same hypocrits pointing the finger at the Whitehouse now?

    November 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. really

    C'mon everyone...there's a bigger picture here. What would you like them to do? Would you rather the whole place explode? This isn't for no reason, deal with the fact that not everything is handed to you on a silver platter - sometimes you have to wait in line so JUST BE PATIENT AND DO WHAT YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO! Deal with it. STOP btching.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Special Ops

    You have a choice to fly or not fly. If you don’t want to go through the security procedures, don’t fly. Drive, sail, walk or charter your own plane whatever. For the rest of us that don’t enjoy the procedures but understand the necessity, we’ll go through the screening and get to our destinations in one piece. Whatever you decide is fine, just stop the complaining. Don’t try to deny the rest of us our sense of security while we fly.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. NRMD

    TSA Total Stupidity of America, What a waste. A prime example of no recovery for America from anything. We blow things out of proportion and expect every thing is fine. No way. Stop this nonsense and rebuild America by creating production jobs not TSA kind of jobs.

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