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. shryeas

    The problem here is the what they are trying to find is something is carried by person in the plane which may harm others. But the real problem is not there it's in everybodys mind. How youy will scan that and take it out...

    November 23, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Lauren

    All of this is completely blown out of proportion. For one, I do not understand why people would "opt out" of the scan, which is seemingly less invasive and basically opt for a thorough hands on search. It's inconsiderate to those behind you wanting to get on flight, and won't prove a point either way if you opt out of the scan. We need to have some security, because if they got rid of these "invasive" scans and God-forbid another 9/11 happens...the public will wonder why nothing was done to stop it.

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

      There are real security concerns around airports and the TSA is not addressing them. How many rights are we willing to sacrifice in the name of a false sense of safety? There are also health concerns about the X-Ray backscatter devices. Like you said though, I'm afraid that "opt-out day" is not really going to change anything, would love to be proven wrong.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      "It's inconsiderate to those behind you wanting to get on flight"

      Are you serious!?

      Translation: If someone wants to violate your dignity and modesty – or that of your seven year old daughter (which is what happened to me as my family and I were flying home this past weekend) – you should just let them go ahead and do it because to do otherwise would be to violate the patience of the people in line behind you.

      Me to my daughter: "Okay, this man is going to take a photo of you naked / this woman is going to touch you in places that, if other people touched you, they'd get thrown in jail. I know it makes you feel uncomfortable, but that person behind us is in a hurry, and we don't want to hold them up, do we? There's a good girl."

      This is the kind of reasoning you're using.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike collins

      You are incredibly naive and shortsighted. Unfortunately, millions of mindless idiots like you are the reason the government can so freely take away our rights.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Acroyear

      I have multiple metal implants...both legs and one arm. I also fly for my job 4 to 6 times each month. I ring the lemons at every airport I've ever been in, and that is quite a few. So I'm going to get asked to get scanned.

      Considering their track record on drugs (how many have been recalled in last few years for long term effects?) I don't trust the FDA as far as I can comfortably spit a rat about these things being harmless.

      It's inconsiderate of you to expect me and anyone else with metallic implants near the skin to be a defacto long term study of the effects of radiation. I'm not going to find out I've got bone cancer 20 years from now because you feel inconvenienced. If the choice is don't fly, get irradiated or pat down, I'll take door number three, thank you.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Michael Allen

    (1) TSA should implement one OPT-OUT line per airport that extends out of the terminal and into the parking garage.
    (2) Those who decide to wait till the last minute to OPT-OUT in the normal line should be put into the back of the OPT-OUT line immediately.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Skee Bee Ba Deep

    We need to start profiling. End of story.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cowser

      I 100% agree with you. Photos of old women and young children being strip searched are so laughable and such a waste of taxpayers time and funds. It may sound cruel, but profiling is 100% the way to go. It works in Israel and they have been in harms way far longer than we have and do not have to suffer these invasive and ineffective techniques being used on US soil. This is all just a show to make people feel better about the system, a very expensive and ineffective show.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cragar

      The underwear bomber was black. Do we now pull all black people out of line for extra attention?

      November 23, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Leon

    Its wrong darn it. My 4th Amendment rights protect me from this. Plus its wrong. This is not cool. I'd rather be blown up being free then live in a world where I am treated guilty before innocent. Ok once again all these almost bombers ALL MUSLIM.... If there is a time to be profiling people now is it. We are not looking for Jews Christians Buddhist Hindu's or Atheists. We are looking for one type of people MUSLIMS. I know not all terrorists are Muslim but all the ones trying to blow up our planes ARE!!! I dont care how racist it is. Search the high risk, not the low risk who are the ones being subjected to these pat downs and body scans. This country is becoming an Orwellian nightmare. Only us the people can save it, and here's how. Everyone start video conferencing and no one fly. If nobody were to fly for 1 week, we could cripple the aviation industry to fight for us. Come one Americas Wake up and smell the Muslim.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • ssggoke

      I think the way to go is to have all muslims be required to attach a red crescent to the outside of their clothes. Its the only way that really make sense because otherwise they look just like us. We don't want to make the mistake of depriving regular Americans of their rights.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cragar

      You want to pat down every Muslim? How exactly do to tell who is Muslim? About half of Muslims are Asian, millions are African or blacks of other descent, millions more are white. So I guess you are saying we must pat down EVERYONE.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • smc

      Leon, you have no clue what the 4th Amendment even means. You don't have a "4th Amendment right" to board other people's property if they want to search you first. And you can't ram searches down other citizens throats just because of their race/religion due to the 4th and 14th Amendments. Go back to school and get a clue.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ian

      Can you tell me what a Muslim looks like? So next time I see one I can walk the other way in fear of being blown up?

      Don't say an Arab... I know several Arabs that are in fact Christian... In fact I also know a few Muslims who are "whiter" than me (I am a deep south white boy) I KNOW lets have everybody go to a government tattoo parlor hand have our religion tattooed on our forheads... that would clear things up.

      Please use your brain before you post this stuff.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  6. pickanoption

    I do not want to get on a plane and risk getting blown up. Having said that, as a female I also don't want to be patted down by some strange guy if a female is not available. So I will probably fly less than I'd like and only when absolutely necessary.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike collins

      Do you know that there have been ZERO flights blown up by a bomber in the US in at least two decades (I'm researching now and haven't found the last incident)? On average, 120 people die in plane crashes per year (only 45 last year), and none since 9/11 have been due to terrorist activity. Compare that to roughly 15,000 homicides per year in the US and it makes you wonder why we are sacrificing so much of our civil liberties (and BILLIONS of dollars) for such an infinitesimal risk? 40,000 died on the US roads alone – why not pump some of those billions (and research) into making our cars and roadways safer??

      Seriously, more people were killed by lightning last year than terrorist attacks...which was zero BTW.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. An American

    I hate it. It's the end of American freedom and virtue. I won't be on a plane ever again until they get rid of the naked picture machine or the agents feeling us up. I will not ever subject my young daughter to this again or would I myself as a woman who actually still believes in modesty and saving herself for her husband. Even the TSA agent hated it and you could tell. It's awful! Ben Franklin was right, "Those who sacrifice liberty for temporary (get that-temporary) security deserve neither."

    November 23, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • cyberg

      Your freedom as you know it left on 911 whether you like it or not! so changes are needed to minimize the impact while ensuring safety for all

      November 23, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tweekerdog

    I think it is pretty simple. If you don't go through the scanner you don't fly. Do you really think there are people sitting in a room getting their "jollies" from watching x-ray images of people. If they are, they really need to get a life.
    There are other ways to travel. You can drive, bus, train, charter a plane or charter a motor home and save on hotel bills.
    The bottom line is, no one wants a terrorist on any form of public/mass transportation system. Safety for all starts with you or me standing in line. You know there are scanners at the airport. And if you don't want to go through a scanner, find another way to travel. No one is forcing you to go to the airport. But you should be forced to go through a scanner for the safety of all.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • IPR

      "no one wants a terrorist on any form of public/mass transportation system" but you're telling people who don't want to fly to take a bus or train? So a terrorist on a train is okay? Because they don't have full body scanners for trains...the ridership on DC trains is in the millions per day and if an act of terror were to happen at a central station many more people than can fit in a plane would be killed. And if your concern was along the lines of a plane crashing into a building, well you're suggesting people who don't want to get scanned charter a plane...so despite all the security measure in place at airports now, terrorists can always just charter a plane and crash into buildings?

      November 23, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. techstyle

    So now pedophiles will simply don uniforms and have their way with your children because you've taught them that it's ok to be touched by the "Nice man in uniform".

    November 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Matt

    The rage is warranted and it's going to get violent before we back down. Plastic Surgeons are going to see an influx of TSA agents needed their faces reconstructed. I know if anyone tries to grab my junk without my permission that would be the case. And once their bandages came off, I'd sue their asses.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Libby

      Gee, Matt, it IS tough to be stuck in a menial job and getting no respect from men or affection from women (except for your 300 pound wife), isn't it?

      November 23, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Libby

    Tea baggers shouldn'tr be flying anyway. they should stay home in their log cabins, dusting their powdered wigs, singing hosannas to the white, slave-owning founding fathers while lusting after Sarah Palin and her little whooring daughter.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Fay Weinstein

    If I wear a skirt I get patted down even if I don't sound any alarms when flying out of Albany International Airport. If a guy wears baggy shorts that hardly stay up on his body – he is not patted down. The rules and the way they are followed are far too subjective and leave all common sense out of the equation.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      Albany "International" Airport is ridiculous... your story does not surprise me. I always travel in pants (not much of a skirt wearer anyway)– so "good to know" that I should continue doing so.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Daryl

    No airplanes originating from the US have had a bomber attempt to blow up it. I would think that if someone was already in the US and intended to do us harm they would choose a target with just as many people but less security. What is next scanners at train stations, subways or maybe put one at toll booth's to see what we have in our cars? These scanners are simply eroding our privacy when we travel. People's fear of terrorism is being used to justify these measures.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sam

    The whole thing seems like theater to me – where is the conclusive evidence that these procedures work? the machine is less intrusive then the pat down definitely but if it was cute girl doing mine I wouldn't mine and I'm sure most ladies would feel the same if a cute guy patted them down as well.

    The point everyone needs to consider – especially the fanatical one's that will do everything to feel safe is this – if only some passengers are scanned by the machines and/or pat downs and we don't profile the people to be scanned how do we know that someone didn't slip through.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. 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 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Acroyear

      Up yours Vinny. I have about 5 pounds of metal, including shrapnel, in my body, much of it on bone just below the skin level. Nobody is going to tell me that getting irradiated over and over is going to have no effects in the long term. After all the recent drug recalls I trust the FDA about as far as I could comfortably spit a rat. I'll opt for the pat down and you can get your jollies watching if you'd like.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
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