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

    Nikki are you a terrorist. Have you done anything to warrant a search at the airport. If not then its unreasonable.

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

    I've got another valid concern with TSA employees...say for example someone elses junk gets touched first and then my junk needs to be touched....am I guaranteed a clean pair of gloves from the TSA agent? Heck no.....that gives you guys something new to think about before you willingly let TSA touch your privates.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Ask the agent to put on clean gloves and see what kind of reaction you get. I doubt that they would respect your request for at least a sanitary (if not invasive) physical search for whatever it is they are searching for.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Toomuchinfo

    And who does these polls (A CBS News survey showed 81 percent of people polled approve of the use of full-body X-ray machines)? In my 57 years, I have never been included in a poll. The TSA has been doing pretty good since 9/11. Why the change?

    November 23, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. K-Mart

    Waaaa, waaaa, waaaa....what's worse, having someone grope you or blowing up mid air? Take a viagra, throw on some adidas pants, and enjoy the experience....trust me, the TSA agents are probably not happy they need to touch your junk either!!!

    November 23, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Acroyear

      waaa, waaa, waaa...keep me safe from everything! Provide me with a false sense that nothing out there will hurt me and I will never, ever die! If you REALLY think this theater can really stop someone willing to die to blow up your plane than you are at best naive, at worst a fool. I agree, the TSA agents have been giving a crap job...NOBODY except a pervert would want it, and not most perverts. But if we have really reached this level of fear, where we are willing to give up THIS much dignity and freedom to feel safe, then the terrorists have already won.

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

    I love how CNN piously intones comments like "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"....and "the outcry has partially been fueled by media-fed misperceptions" as though they had nothing to do with any of that hype. Now that the "outcry" story is beginning to wane, it's time to trot out a new controversy... "TSA complaints: warrented outrage? Or all bark and no bite?" That shouldbe CNN's motto: all bark and no bite.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ratkartz

    It's time for regime change.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. roxy

    I say everyone should just go in swimsuits! problem solved 🙂

    November 23, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • roxy

      or naked in a raincoat

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

      Guys- just wear a great big oversized moo-moo with nothing underneath. (Joke). I couldn't do that anyway due to an embarrassing medical condition that requires rather-supportive undergarments.

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

      I like the whole wear a kilt, no underwear option.

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

    Has anyone realized that cnn is switching up when certain comments come up. Like it goes from 4:04 PM to 1:45 Pm. Once again the news is skewing to distort us from the truth.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Keith

    I just cannot believe how much freedom Americans keep giving up since 9/11. One or two more attempted acts of terrorism and I think you’ll be ready to dispense with democracy and accept totalitarianism. What ever happened to live free or die? Maybe everyone owning guns is not such a great idea if you’re all going to be wusses when you’re not carrying them.

    The TSA does nothing to make people safer, it is a boondoggle created to pander to the fears of Americans and you’re buying into it hook, line and sinker. I cannot imagine what is going to take place as soon as the first terrorist is found with something in a cavity–which is certainly where they would be hiding things already so tell me how x-ray scans and groping are making you safer?

    November 23, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. david jame

    just like the Nazis times, everybody just watching and letting this theft of humanity go on. The terrorist win everytime a tsa "person " packs somebody on the a§§.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Steve Vu

    if you know who your potential suspect is, do you interrogate everyone else? is TSA really targeting the terrorist, or they're just playing the race game and target everyone including and especially the patriotic American citizen.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jekyll

    The main issue with the scanners is they don't work and for those of you frequent fliers who have no problem with them, they are expected to cause cancer

    November 23, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Leon

    Roxy your a genius... Except I can't handle seeing a fat woman in a two piece (shutter)

    November 23, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ShatteredDrift

    not even isreal will use these machines

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

    its part of the terror hoax the govt started when they did 911. they set up a police state so it can destroy our bill of rights.
    so.., now we're are afraid of the "cave dwelling boogie men" . if we give up all our rights,and let the govt in our pants and our babies diapers, the loving government will protect us. SAY NO NO NO to this tyranny!!

    November 23, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
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