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. wfhutchi

    I have a few comments:

    1. I really hope people are being courteous to the TSA agents at the airport. They do not need anyone giving them grief while they are performing their duties to protect us. Giving a TSA Agent grief may cause one of them to not perform their duty completely.

    2. Pat downs are not needed unless A) Someone refuses a body scan. B) Someone fails a body scan.

    3. Profiling: I believe we should use profiling. We know what terrorists against in our country looks like. So anyone that looks like Abdulmutallab (Underwear), Atta (9/11), McVeigh (Oklahoma City), Nichols (Oklahoma City), Reid (Shoe), Shahzad (Times Square), and Stone Sr (Hutaree) should be pull aside and given pat downs whether they pass the body scan or not.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sara

    fly all the time and I am insulted by these machines and the pat downs. Because I fly all the time (and have over 30 years of flying "experience" with one airline, it should be pretty damn obvious that I'm not going to blow up a plane. It's time to have some common sense about this and not treat all flyers like we are terrorists when obviously the majority of us are not. There will still be ways of getting bombs on planes- the TSA and government is always attacking the "last" trick that worked but it doesn't take into consideration the tricks that haven't been tested yet. It's time to trust instincts and watch for the behavior of people who may be problems.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. roger

    So its better to volunteer every passenger on the plane and that also includes children to "possibly getting blown up" than to submit to a search from someone whom you will never see again in your entire life anyway. What a true American hero you are.. Get over yourselves you talk about the right to privacy and search? what about the Right to LIFE? if getting patted down because you don't want towalk through a scanner and are afraid someone seeing your junk offends you then you are already ashamed of yourself and need some self confidence couseling. I assure you if a plane does get blown up then you'll gripe about how inadequate the TSA search criteria is. I like being safe and knowing all I to worry about is drunk pilots or mechanical failure not religeous whack Jobs hell bent on destroying America. Get over it people!!

    November 23, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mike

    Sure, Uncle Sam, you can do anything you want to me, as long as it's in the name of security! Scan me, x-ray me, grope me, do things that would cause any private citizen to be arrested! I don't care. As long as you say it's for my own protection, then you can just keep doing whatever you like!

    Wake up, people. You're being TRICKED into thinking you're more secure with these procedures. When people don't speak up; when people just be quiet and "take it" when their rights are compromised, that reduces the security of EVERYONE, whether they're flying or not.

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

    I want to know what a real woman feels like. Where's the nearest TSA recruitment office?

    November 23, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. pat kennedy

    We are really jumping thru hoops to be politically correct, how about profiling? Guys and gals that fill the bill should be checked and if I look like that, then give me a rubdown. Instead of politically correct, how about sensible, it was Colonel Mustard with the candlestick in the library. Who hates America? Who has an agenda?

    November 23, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. gkingii

    How can any sane person prefer this crap over actual privacy and dignity? I won't fly while this goes on... but what the heck keeps you safe in a car, on a bus, a train or even a ship? Nobody has done a decent job making sure people who fly into the US have been scrutinized this way. IT DOESN'T KEEP YOU SAFE. There are too many other ways for cowards to kill people and avoid this display of the ignorance and exploitation of the American people.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  8. What Right?

    The issue I find with all of this is when people talk about the violation of their 4th amendment to be searched and patted down. At what point did flying on an airplane become an indelible right of all free people. If I want to visit someone in prison, can I refuse a search on the same basis? The people I see complaining are the same ones calling for someone’s head when a threat does make it through security. I feel nothing but sympathy for TSA because they have to be right 100% of the time in order to stop any possible threats. Those wishing to do harm only have to be right once to change the world as we know it.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Julie

      So you're implying that we have no rights and that we are prisoners so we might as well get in formation and bleet. Well then you go ahead and get in that line. Everyone who is commenting about how we should just take it as is because it's the way of the world – you're pu**ies and don't deserve to be an American because American's FIGHT for what they believe in and don't just accept the word of Government is the word of God!

      November 23, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. sss

    I think it can only be due to corruption that TSA opted to use these scanners, and not the proven ones that the Dutch have in their airports which replace the actual body with a mannequin and which do not employ harmful radiation.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  10. pat kennedy

    How about Naked Airlines, travel nude, we are all naked under our clothes and being evoluted from beasts, who do we think we are wearing clothes?

    November 23, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Michael

    This is CNN's top story?....It's just sad. What with another war brewing in Korea, they couldn't get something together and do some actual reporting instead of this trash?

    November 23, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. bush 012

    im 24 they can feel my BIG JUNK anytime who cares.i fly 5-6 times a year i knw it turns them on.lol

    November 23, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. FreqFlier

    Hmm...I wonder why this "former TSA" official has not been through the scanner? And WHY would CNN interview an "expert" that hasn't even been through it? And WHY aren't we concentrating on the REAL issue: people in back rooms are looking at pictures of our bodies so revealing they can tell our penis size!! And oif we opt-out they feel-up our genitals!

    November 23, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. sara

    "don't touch my junk" dude started all this with his video and the media, so hard up for something ran with it. Doesn't anyone have anything to do any more. CNN move on . You are creating unnecessary anger and hate, I can't even read some of these stupid comments anymore. I am sure that 85% to 90% of these people on this thread don't even fly. Move on already, CNN

    November 23, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linkspast

      I agree Sara. This guys comments were blown out of proportion. phukin weirdo american still think like the puritans, these ppl are not trying to touch you that way, this is like a cop pat down, oh well get over yourself, they are just following protocol.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bill

    Glad CNN had the guts to admit the media's role in this. Blown way out of proportion. Only lemmings actually believe that some poor TSA slob is looking to grab your breasts or check your innocuous, computer-generated figure on a fuzzy screen. Get over yourself. You are probably fat and ugly anyway, so nobody is checking you out. No pedophile is working the TSA line, waiting for your kids. There are, however, people traveling with explosives in their shoes, underwear, and places you are actually worried about the TSA touching, so get over it. I have flown seven times this month. Have had the scan and the pat-down when more convenient (read: some crazy holding up the scan line, moaning about their rights being violated). All were professional and far from obtrusive. You have no right to deny security, and you have no right to be fat and ugly.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
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