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. tom

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1290527/Airport-body-scanners-deliver-radiation-dose-20-times-higher-thought.html

    November 23, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. clark1b

    that is because the media is driven by ratings ... hype and exaggeration generate far more revenues that telling the facts and relaying the truth. Look at any news story ... if it rains the cameraman puts the camera down as close to the water's surface as possible and the reporter stands in the water and "floods" are proclaimed to be widespread and devastating ... but if the camera scans back we find out that the "floods" are limited to certain specific low lying areas.

    November 23, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Michael

    You be the judge if the backscatter X-ray is safe or not. I for one do not want to be the guinea pig. I will always opt out and take the pat down. Check out this letter from a group of concerned scientist.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • ellid

      That's the same UNSUPPORTED letter that's been used as "evidence" that the scanners cause cancer. IT IS EVIDENCE OF NOTHING EXCEPT THE OPINION OF A GROUP OF DOCTORS. Unless someone can point me at a PEER REVIEWED STUDY PROVING THAT THESE MACHINES ARE UNSAFE, there is no reason to panic.

      Also, please remember that only people who set off metal detectors are scanned/patted down to begin with. Give me a break!

      November 23, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jeremy

    CNN is like the new Enquierer The CBS poll you mentioned only had a sample of slightly over 1,000 people which cannot represent the whole damn county. How can 1k people represent 300 million? They can't! The people who don't care either way never fly, hence why they are ok with the new procedures. TSA hasn't stopped squat. All they do is prove that the terrorists are winning. By having everyone in this state of fear and by stripping our liberties away the terrorists have won.

    JUST LIKE the 4,000K those "terrorist" used to plant those printer bombs. It now has costed us Billions in these new "security" fixes. WAKE UP PEOPLE. The stuff in the movies is happening now. If you do not stand up, prepare for hell.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeremy

      4,000$*

      November 23, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Robrob

    You can chose to do everything in your power to avoid another 9/11 or not. If you chose to not, then you chose to risk another 9/11. Your choice.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. baruch

    Show me a legitimate poll that shows most Americans are ok with the scanning and groping. I don;t believe it. More propaganda.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. John

    It is like physical check up. Only at the airport they do it in front of everybody!!!! I think it will make a differences if this kind of check up was performed in a seperate room.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. emma

    >>>>"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.">>>>>

    Sounds like Sora Song knows quite a bit about "no brainers"... As most airports do not even have the full body scans at this time (nor do foreign airports whose passengers are being flowin INTO THE US) – is Ms. Song implying that flights originating at these airports are unsafe? Strange how we're not noticing that... are they hiding all the explosions from us? Perhaps are the silly terrorists only trying to sneak explosives in through the airports with the new scanners, only to be foiled?

    As your chances of being blown up or otherwise killed in a plane crash are infinitesimal, and the vast majority of flights that crash and kill you are downed by incompetent pilots, I'm not seeing how these measures are keeping us "safer".

    November 23, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Roger

    It isn't just one thing. For instance, if you ask, "Are you willing to have a scan?" by itself that question will probably receive a positive response most of the time.

    But, if you ask, "Are you willing to stand in line for 20 minutes, take off your shoes, belt, jacket, and watch then empty your pockets, pull your computer out of its case, get scanned or groped, be treated like a suspect while being pressured to rush, rush, rush?" the answer will probably be negative.

    Add to it the airline aggravation and the whole this is just too much for many people.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. CHRIS

    TSA PEOPLE ARE SUCH A JOKE ESPEC AT MY AIRPORT IN BWI,,, THEY NEVER PAY ATTENTION AND THERE ALWAYS JOKING AROUND,,,,how many TSA are Pervs i wonder and touching our Children...!!! i heard this Kid tell this TSA they were Weird lolol

    November 23, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Canela

    No screen No fly; If you don't like it, stay home. I'm tired of the whining. Security against suicide bombers is essential.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tuffy

      The likelihood of getting blown up in a plane is so small that you're just as likely to get cancer from going through the backscatter machines a few times.

      There is no point to all this. It only makes sense if you pay attention to who is profiting by selling these machines to the TSA.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • HarmNone

      Most of us are not flying and simply showing our numbers, that is what TSA is having a problem with. There will be those who protest at the airport, but the major numbers of people who are no longer flying is putting the loss of profits out there for all travel business to see. They are not getting our money and that won't be sitting very well with any of them. People have canceled their flights and changed vacations because of these violations. Sorry that you are too willing to give up your rights and allow abusive behavior to continue in the name of safety. There is no such thing as safety, and there are tons of loopholes in the TSA process.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pat Heaney

      @Canela, "No screen No fly; If you don't like it, stay home"... really? Wait, why don't you just drive then? Wait, it's more dangerous to drive thanks to drunk drivers or that you'll get shot by a random robber than you'll be killed by a suicide plane bomber! Why don't we have TSA randomly pulling over and frisking all drivers and pedestrians? What's wrong with that?

      November 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • C B

      I so agree. Some of us fly for the convenience and want to be safe while doing so. The rest can stay home. If you don't want a scan in some way just don't fly. Simple. Quit making it harder for the rest of us.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. rreltb

    Unfortunately as in all positions of trust, there are those with absolutely no common sense or compassion, let alone people skills... Then there are the Agent/Criminals that inspect the checked luggage thinking it's their own personal gift shop, taking anything that strikes their fancy... My daughter just came home for a visit and on her return trip had her cosmetics stolen from her suitcase. Give me a break... Ok we have to agree to either a scan or physical/groping examination which may or may not be performed by a decent TSA representative, but is it so much to ask that our personal belongings remain ours once we pick up our bags at our final destination?

    November 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Zenomorph

    "Poll: 4 in 5 Support Full-Body Airport Scanners."

    For the 20% who keep complaining ... no one is interested in what you have to say ... especially if you are a pilot (aircraft taxi driver).

    My only wish is that TSA will set aside protest pat-down passengers giving priority to those who must be patted down and allow the 80% who are not threatened by the scanners to be screened quickly. If the protest pat-down passengers miss their flight ... well, that is there choice.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tuffy

      Backscatter Xray machines deliver "20 times the average dose that is typically quoted by TSA."

      This is science. And the TSA is lying to you. So yea, you can be first to your airport gate. You'll also be first up for skin cancer.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Semper Fi

    Lets just start touching the TSA agents back and see how that works.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Breanna

    Yes folks, watch Timmy get patted down by a stranger who probably didn't have to go through a personal history check and like it. And remember, the terrorists want to blow up your Ford Focus specifically.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
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