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. Opressed

    stateofworldliberty.org/report/rankings.html

    We rank 19thin the world in individual freedoms. And this was 06. Can't imagine we're increasing on that list....

    November 23, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Vince

    Opponants of the TSA security measures keep saying because no has been caught trying to bring weapons or a bomb on an airplane that airport security is not doing any good. Have any of those people stopped to think thats it might be because of those security measures that no one is trying to bring weapons and such on board. Face it folks, no self respecting terrorist is gonna try to get on an airplane with tight security. But if one bomb is prevented from getting on a plane wouldn`t that be worth a little inconvienence at the airport ?? Especially if that bomb is prevented from getting on a plane that you are on... Think about it...

    November 23, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. SeaknightRex

    Wait, let me get this right, TSA has the right to questoin/scan and body search Americans but, law enforcement is unable to ask an illegal if she is illegal? police...go figure.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jeff

    So the "expert" really has no facts and instead relies on what she's been told by some unnamed administration lackey. And we're supposed to take the word of a former official, now a "consultant" as factual? "Not sure," "I don't think," "I believe"...What a lame brain. This machines are Michael Chertoff's going away gift from the DHS. You can opt out of the scanning but if you try to opt out of the pat-down, you cannot simply choose to leave the airport. If you opt out of both measures, you will be detained by Janet Napolitano's secret police until you have proved your innocence. You are presumed guilty by the TSA/DHS and the Obama administration. The terrorists have won, thanks to Mr. Obama.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Aussiehood

    I went throught the new scanners a couple of weeks ago. It was a piece of cake. TSA staff were very professional and it took no time at all. For those of you who object, I don't want to be on a plane with you if you haven't been screened by security. Your choice, scan, pat down or find some other way of getting there!!!!!

    November 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mick

    So I've lost count. How many terrorists have they caught so far?

    November 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. denise

    I wonder how many of the people complaining and whining about body scanners and pat downs have been to a club or college campus party in the past 5 to 10 years. I graduated college in 2006 and every party that I ever went to on campus had security that patted everyone down before entry. If you didn't want to go through security then you didn't go to the party. Plain and simple.

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

      I don't know what college you went to but being patted down by security is NOT standard. That's actually really bizarre for a college party.

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

    Take your official TSA toiletries baggie and fill it chock full with various toiletries under 3 oz. This is what you can legally carry. Then empty contents of each and replace with jello of various colors that obviously don't match the label (e.g. deep red Listerine). Fill your baggie back up again and you should have 24-30 oz of liquid/gels (though I've seen folks with more). Now run back and forth across through TSA a few dozen times. I've done it and only one stopped me. He just said, gee you have a lot of toiletries. And I told him, "yeah, I have a skin condition" and went right through.

    After you've had this experience, go home and read about how much liquid/gel is necessary to blow plane out of the sky. Once you've done all that, assess one more time how much you trust TSA and how safe you feel. TSA is there to create the appearance of safety for those who follow the rules anyway. It would also catch a real idiot but not a competent person with evil intent. But actually, TSA hasn't ever caught any variety of evil person.

    Oppose TSA as actively as you can or dare to (keeping in mind that they probably read these blogs and track back to IP addresses). Do it legally and with at least some civility (but not too much). Rattle their cages when you go through "security". Let's hope that a successor organization can provide the reality and not just the illusion of security.

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

      Annoying or bothering the people doing the search doesn't offer much in the way of correcting the situation because they are not decision-makers or policy-setters. They are employees hired as something similar to security guards (not meaning to insult, but really it is a low skill security position). If 100 people were to make some rude comment or act in a difficult fashion at the airport, how many of those comments do you think will be passed up the chain all the way to someone with the authority to make an effective and beneficial change in the policies. I doubt that any of those comments would. While it may feel good to vent your anger and frustration at someone during the process, I have doubts that it will provide the flying public much benefit.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Questioner

    At the risk of having my head ripped off by anyone who disagrees...why can't we implement security like the Israelis did so many years ago? They (Israelis) have not had any incidents since the 70's. You'd think that a track record like theirs speaks for itself. And, I don't remember any stories of people being consistently groped by airport personnel at Ben Gurion. Anyone? Anyone?

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

    It's a shame that so many simply do not understand the protest against this.. What it means and what it can mean and eventually what it will mean the the whole concept of being a free American..
    The people who are scoffing at protesters over this, make me feel sad and defeated..
    You just don't get it..You are contributing to your own miserable non free future.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tami

    If the real intent is to save an aggregate amount of lives for the sake of a few personal freedoms, that cause miniscule hassle, then why the inverse reaction in saftey measures taken versus leading causes of U.S. citizens death?
    Why arent breathalizers required to be installed in all vehicles? Oh well because you cannot assume all who drive are drinking an driving of course so we wouldent want to profile...yet everyone who steps on a plane however is a terrorist.
    Leading cause of death is heart disease yet there are around 160K fast food restaurants in the U.S., its a $65B business, and have you seen the cost of a bottle of Plavix? Without Insurance?
    Why are these establishments not banned, each persons daily caloric intake monitored by a new governing agency and moderate excercise required?
    Just random thoughts.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. noreaster

    my wife has had pat downs for over a dozen years since her knee replacement which sets off the x-ray machines every time. Her pat downs are the same as what everybody is so incensed about. She says she's never had one instance of any TSA screener being overly familiar during the pat downs. In fact, she says they have always be less than intrusive. So I'd say, get over it and fly safe.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Keith

    Most of these comments are making me feel really smart right now, Thanks for the self esteem boost.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tim

    Here is the greatest idea ever... Every male going traveling should pop a 100mg Viagra an hour before heading to the airport. When he goes through the pat down, imagine the look on the TSA agents face when he finds Mr. Woody! I imagine after 2 or 3 of those, the patdowns would all but stop!

    November 23, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tinap.

    I'm in the middle of the road. I don't like the scanners but I'm ok with them BUT I want to keep my shoes on at all airports (not some here or there), I want the scanners to be able to tell the difference between a piece of a bra, a hip replacement or a fake boob, I don't want an enhance patdown because of a piece of a bra and most of all I don't want anyone's kids to be patted down! I would also like TSA agents to be professional and not thuggish with low hanging pants that scowl at passengers and yell at people who are just trying to make it through this mess- I'm looking at you SeaTac.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      I'm with you on that one–I hate taking my shoes off. It is just an awkward pain and inconvenience.

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