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. What Next?

    I guess the pervs have a new dream job? We tell our kid's not to let a stranger touch them for nothing because i am sure that soon enough your young children will be subject to the "inhanced" patdown.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Brownstain

    We have a two party system.
    Which equates to-A steaming bowl of sh!t looking at itself in a mirror.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Big Giant Horsee

    These inspectors should change gloves every time they pat down a new person. If someone is diseased, with the method they use now, they will pass it to everyone after that person until they take their gloves off for lunch. One TSA inspector could start a mini pandemic.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Annick

    I think that in this day and age, if you do not want the pat down, I strongly suggest you walk or swim to your destination!!

    November 23, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Hortencio Beasley

    TSA should just hire and train the NFL cheerleaders to do the patdowns. They only work on Sunday, so they could be useful at the airport the other days. I guarantee the backlash will end if they do this.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  6. bj

    Anyone who doesn't want to be screened can go on a separate plane that does no screening! Good luck!!

    November 23, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      I'll be that a lot of people would opt IN for that flight actually.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. tamera

    just wondering do they use a new pair of gloves with each person? I would want a new pair of gloves if they patted me or my family down I am worried about pathogens and contagious illness.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Creel

      Your getting on a plane with 200 strangers, some of which are going to be sick, and the air system is circulating all of those germs throughout the plane. I wouldn't worry to much about those gloves.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • hey

      are you putting plastic down on the seats when you get on the plane.. what possible germ is going to be transmitted this way? my goodness your baggage is also toughing other baggage!

      November 23, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Charles

    "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."

    This is absolutely absurd. I was flying for years before 9/11 when the biggest concern at the security gate was remembering to take the change out of your pockets. By this nitwit's logic, I should have been blown up long ago because apparently body scans are the only thing keeping everybody and their grandmother from bringing a bomb onto a plane.

    YOU CANNOT OUT-EXTREME EXTREMISTS!

    After 9/11 we said "Okay, no more knives of any sort on the flight." That didn't stop the next guy from hiding a bomb in his shoe.
    After the shoe bomber we said "Okay, your shoes have to be scanned by security." That didn't stop the next guy from putting a bomb in his underwear.
    After the underwear bomber we now get body scans and pat downs. Guess what... that's not going to stop the next guy from trying something else.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Andrew

    Paranoid, fearful people. Do you really live your life thinking someone is going to blow you up?

    Tell me, if you're concerned with safety, why have the airlines not made blast-proof modifications to the planes cargo hold? The Airlines say it's too expensive. Why hasn't the security of ports and shipping containers been a higher priority, or even discussed? The only answer I can come up with is people aren't directly involved. A population is easier to control if they are in a state of fear, leap lemmings, leap.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bob

    I get that not everyone is capable or willing to fight terrorism on the homefront the Israeli way (for lack of a better example), but breeding complacency within the population certainly isn't going to stop terrorism either. When the scanners are at every street corner, every public building, and on every Google Street View van, will the public feel safer then?

    The only people winning anything here are the Chertoff Group, their investors, and lobbyists.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Creel

    For all men flying tomorrow, its National Cialis day; so put a rocket in your pocket and get in line.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. bush 012

    im 24 went thru scanner.i dint care. i let him feel my BIG JUNK.was wearing shorts and boxers.instead of going down the waiste band he went up my shorts and boxers and felt testicles around and under my penis.i doubt this was correct prcedure,but it happened and oh well its over.hope he got arise out of it.he was in his late 20 s early 30s.lol and have to do it again soon . lol dnt care so what.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. pkweis

    Popped urine bags, guy dropped his drawers so he didn't need to be groped and was told he refused a body search and the women who photographed this happening in a public place was detained...their seems to be no end to the indignities and rights being trampled on and by TSA who answers to no one. This will eventually be the end of the airline industry and they will blame it on the Dems for being insensitive to business....god help us...the Government apparently won't...

    November 23, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Troofs

    99% of the opposition is from fat people and men with small penises

    November 23, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Creel

      Yup

      November 23, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tinap.

      I know cus skinny people never have body issues. Cough anorexia cough.

      Where do the people with disabilities and those with kids fit in?

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

      I'm fat, I have a average johnson and I don't give a bleep who knows. The issue is not for me one of what the scanner shows it's how it shows it...especially since I have more than a bit metal in me from the fact life isn't fair.

      I will not get irradiated so a bunch of frightened sheep can feel safe!

      November 23, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Troofs

      @ Tinap. Q. "Where do the people with disabilities and those with kids fit in?" A – in wheelchairs *da dun ching*

      November 23, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tweekerdog

    A lot of people here seem to think it is their "god given right" to fly. There are other forms of transportation. And you have the right to use them. You have the right to choose if you want to smoke, drink, cuss, fly in a plane or sit in a bean bag chair, naked eatting cheetos while smoking, drinking and cussing.
    The fact is, you have the right to turn the channel or turn off the TV, same go's for flying. YOU DON'T HAVE TO FLY.

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