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. Leon

    Hey Nikki your so Wrong

    November 23, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tara

    This is how I see it. The TSA agents are just doing their jobs. The same thing when you walk into a department store to be measured for a dress or a suit or dare I say, a bra. They aren't going to remember you anyway. They see thousands of people everyday. It's their job, people and they are trying to keep us safe. Remember you have 2 options and if you don't like your options then drive or take a bus or don't fly at all. Because our country has been a target in the pass (Hello? Septemebr 11) We have to take these precautions so nothing like that happens again. The TSA agents don't care what you look like and they probably aren't looking at your body parts, they are making sure you don't have bombs or ANYTHING else like that. So please, get over it. They are doing it for your safety.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tinap.

      i would invite anyone who says "hello, 9/11" as a reminder as to why we need these scanners to read the 9/11 commission report, which is about 1500 pages explaining how the government were tracking these guys, allowed them into our country (just like they did the underwear bomber) and we monitoring their actions and purchases. there were about 100 different times 9/11 could have been stopped but didn't. i'm not a conspiracy nut, i'm just saying we have a no fly list for a reason (that was ignired with the underwear bomber), all threats have been from outside this country so why all the patdowns for kids, grannies and the disabled? why patdown for women wearing an underwire?

      and that "don't like it, don't fly" jazz, why shouldn't i? my taxes pay for that airport, bailed out those airlines, paid for those scanners, that tarmac so like social security- yeah, it's my right to use what i have been made to pay for with government tax dollars so allow me and everyone else to have some dignity and demand that TSA get it's act together and make it less intrusive before we have to bail out the airlines- AGAIN.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. na nan

    Anything they do to protect me from danger is a good thing. Over-reacting to search procedures for everyone's safety seems like some people are living in a 'stupid bubble'. Believe me, none of these employee's doing this job is excited about feeling you up. They most likely hate it more than you. But they are earning a pay day (yea!), I am safer (yea!), and you are still in a 'stupid bubble' (boo!) putting the safety of the rest of America at risk.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • mslman71

      Do you stay at home when the weather outside is bad (regarding flying)? Anything to improve safety is warranted, right? Do you realize that there have been a lot more deaths due to meteorological conditions than terrorists? Of course not, you make a calculated risk and recognize that the probability difference is minute and acceptable to achieve your desired ends.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • 7mm-08

      To quote my ol' buddy Benjamin Franklin, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." It astounds me the sacrifices people are willing to make just to feel pseudo-safe.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Acroyear

      If it actually made us safer, then it wouldn't be so bad... it won't. They'll simply move to different targets or start stuffing C4 in body cavities. You could easily put enough in your rectum to detonate the substantial amount you could swallow if sealed in baggies. That blast would easily rupture the planes skin...at the very least dozens in nearby seats would be killed by the body shrapnel. Wake up. You are NEVER safe. You have to find a balance between cutting of stupidly easy ways to get a bomb on board and how much liberty your are willing to surrender... THIS is way too far.

      And yes, I would rather risk death at 30K feet than the sure and glaring fact that we of the West have become cowardly sheep, afraid of our own shadows.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jeremy

    Hey Moderator,

    Quit deleting posts. Interesting

    Things Gov Said were safe:

    Tobacco
    Abspestos
    Agent Orange
    Gulf War Vacines
    Phen/Fen
    And on and on.....

    oh yeah, and these scanners. They are safe, don't worry, we made our money and wish to continue to.

    EVERYONE: Go invest in some private plane lessons and forget about having to deal with the TSA scanners and the loss of our rights.

    Start up private flight companies and bite them where it hurts. If they are not making money, they will be forced to change.

    We need to stand up before we are continuing to be taken advantage of.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Justathght

    Ok, why are they not screening passengers who arrive in on flights? People are flying in from places tht do not have this type of screening.............what abt those folks? Why do they not scan everyone like that when Getting off the plane???

    November 23, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Wake up everyone!

    Wake up and just say NO! Refuse the scan and the pat down.

    Are we becoming Nazi Germany? If so, better let them stick fingers where they don't belong or who knows what's next?.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brianne

      Uhhh.... How in the hell is this like Nazi Germany??? You must be a Glenn Becky?

      They are doing these things to keep others from harming our sorry selves. If they were rubbing up on you and then turning you away because of the whole lack of braincells you put out into society after you had paid full fare and maybe also escorted you to the giant oven out back then that might be a little more like Nazi Germany.

      And for Christ sake – If you had any kind of concept of what Nazi Germany was like people like yourself would not bring it up as a reference to every damn thing you disagree about. The people that had to live through that like my family should give you a good history lesson.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • cyberg

      If you do not like – Do not fly!!!! Nobody is forcing Americans to the airport the last time I checked. Do I think it can be improved – absolutely as with most things in thenworld

      November 23, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. mslman71

    "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."

    Okay, then don't fly during inclement weather. If safer is the only issue at hand then by all means, fly safer. OR, is it that you accept a [minuscule] increase in risk to reach your objective? The proper question is does this procedure, relative to basic screening, increase flight safety to an extent that warrants the overall cost and intrusion? No one really seems to have a handle on asking or answering the pertinent questions.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Name*Terry Taylor

    When the first plane goes down will CNN be happy with the fear campaign they provide in the name of ratings. No search no fly media will only be happy to keep outrage going as long as your ratings are up and will it be worth the lives it will cost without security checks. Grow up media take some responcibility for your show.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Leon

    Thomas Palestinians are muslim you idiot

    November 23, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. amanda

    If you don't like the security, take a bus or train or drive.

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

      If you're that afraid of a 1 in a million chance they how about YOU don't fly. Better yet, don't EVER leave your home. You have a vastly higher chance of getting shot in a robbery in a grocery store than getting blown up by a terrorist. The level of fear in people these days is amazing. Yes, we need some security, but if we keep going down this road, the terrorists have won folks...we're frightened sheep trying to live in a don't hurt me bubble.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. CJ

    The CBS poll did *NOT* say "81 percent of people polled approve of the use of full-body X-ray machines" – a screenshot of the poll is here: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/11/15/national/main7056945.shtml. The actual item states: "Enough with the scans and pat-downs! They're an invasion of civil liberties" and is listed as "83%" agree with this statement. Where are you getting you information CNN – just blindly copying it over from other news sources??

    November 23, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. NorCalMojo

    Delta is testing the waters. They're offering refunds. That will give a better picture of how people really feel than random polls.

    The TSA needs to fire some people for releasing the scan pictures. If they can't find the individual who did it, they should fire some managers. That's the root of the scare. People don't trust the TSA's discretion and are worried their scans will be leaked. The TSA needs to show that they have a zero tolerance policy on privacy violations.

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

      Fire, and prosecute, AND provide their name, address, phone number, and imagery released to the person depicted in the imagery so that the victim can bring a civil suit to the individual agent.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. caraschulz

    This article does a good job of presenting false choices.

    If the TSA doesn't touch my labia, the plane I'm in won't automatically explode. So I reject framing the issue as either get patted down or be blown up.

    Another false choice – which do you want, current security or no security at all? How about effective security that doesn't resemble in-processing an inmate for prison.

    As for those who say it's only a small number of people who are scanned or patted down – soon that will change. The TSA has said that they are quickly working towards scanning or patting down every single passenger. They've also said that they are making rail and subways a high priority for this type of security, too. Is this what we want?

    November 23, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Leon

    Its all wrong!! we are so backwards in this. If we freaking had caught Osama Bin Ladin then none of this would be an issue. People would realize they could get caught and be held accountable. We have just had two really bad presidents.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. HarmNone

    CNN is continually posting bogus poll numbers. They are not providing the details of the poll which show how meaningless they are. MSNBC did an internet poll of 50,000 people and 77% oppose the new process (both scanners and pat downs), and couldn't vote twice I checked.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
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