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. BRod

    A terrorist will always find a way. I'd rather take the microscopic chance of being a victim of a terrorist than put up with all the nonsense the TSA puts us through. We are a nation of paranoid people. It's pathetic. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • adampeart

      We've become a nation of COWARDS living in constant fear of the 'boogie man.' When bravery has been washed from the people's hearts, this country's goose is cooked.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  2. PersonaNonGrata

    waah, bunch of american crybabies wet their bed and now they don't want to lie in it. Cry me a river, idiots

    November 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. pixelbreath

    Go to Sarah Pahlen.com to buy " I SUPPORT THE TSA" stickers. \
    What! You want find them there?

    November 23, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ron

    OK You suggest that very few people are getting the pat downs, or feel ups, now. There is absolutely nothing at this point to stop the TSA from expanding this touchy feely program. STOP IT NOW! Note I did not say to do away with all security measures, but just because you can do a thing, does not mean there should be no limits. As someone else mentioned in another forum, if the terrorists start hiding bombs within their bodies, does that mean all people will then have to have a colonscopy to fly to grandma's?
    Some people have waved the flag and said we are at war. If this insulting behavior by the TSA is not scaled back, we can only expect even more invasive treatment in the future. What they are doing now will not go away eventually, it will in fact become even worse. Part of being an American means that unlike many nations, we are reasonably free to come and go as we please. Being free to move about in our society should not be a priviledge, but a right.
    If you consider how few incidents there have been even with our previous security measures, you would be far more likely to die from pilot error, mechanical failure, or an accident on the way to the airport.
    How safe is safe? As the terrorist themselves have said, we don't have to do much of anything, and the stupid Americans will waste billions of dollars trying to stop up every hole. They poke us and we jump.
    And, in the process, we will no longer be the same society. And they want that , too!
    I'm sad to say, that America is starting to resemble Nazi Germany more than the country that fought them. Already we are being searched by the jack boots, and asked for our papers, to go, ....well, anywhere!

    November 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • PersonaNonGrata

      you are an idiot and a crybaby, hang your head in shame and tell your mother she was a failure

      November 23, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Unbelievable...

    It is so insane that our nation and it's great in-flight security force that is TSA is so about everything that is going in and out of the airports these days.. what about where our calls are going to when we call USAirways to modify a reservation? I just spent 20 mins on the phone with someone in India who could barely help me change my seat?! Why don't we try to regulate out-sourcing and keep these jobs in the US with people that speak English as a first language and can help with such a trivial request. Instead we focus on pat-downs and scanners.. are we not conerned about what out-sourcing our personal information can lead to? Unbelievable...

    November 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dismayed with it all

    Lots of double-talk in the video clip. The new scanners are absolutely necessary to keep you safe, but many airports don't have them yet but it's okay because the old methods work and you will be safe. There are only a few of the new scanners so chances are this won't be an issue so don't worry, but all airports will eventually have them. If you go through the scanner you won't have to be groped, unless you are pullled aside randomly or have a medical implant or your groin is blurry. The scanners are totally safe, although they have never been specifically tested for their effect on human health. Only three percent of people have been groped, but three percent of 34 million flyers means that over 700,000 people have been groped over the past week. If you don't submit to these procedures then you will be blown up, even though only three known unsuccessful attempts have occurred in the past nine years. We value our rights and freedoms, but it is patriotic to stand aside and watch strangers poke and prod your children.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • PersonaNonGrata

      Americans asked for it, they got it, now deal with it and quit complaining.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. CR

    I've been through the pat downs before, but this one isn't the same as those. Those were quick and they really didn't touch me at all. It was more like they had to pick some "random" person to check for some quota.
    But these new pat downs are not like that. I don't think people really understand the difference.

    The scanners are creepy, but fine, whatever. I'm not thrilled about it, but I'd rather go through that than have someone molest me in front of the whole airport.

    Someone keeps mentioning the cargo holds, and that's my big question too. Why are we subjected to all this garbage when our luggage is apparently given the green light regardless of what's in them? That's insane.
    Scan the luggage and keep your hands to yourself TSA!

    The whole thing is garbage anyway because we are not any safer than we were 9 years ago ...

    November 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JJ

    Will TSA replace IRS as the most hated federal agency in the USA?

    November 23, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. adampeart

    Your odds of dying in a terrorist attack are less than dying from a honey bee sting, lightning strike, or drowning in your own bathtub. Yet, frankly, those who are willing to give up their rights and suffer humiliation are COWARDS. A rational person realizes that 'safety' is NEVER a guarantee in life. Sean Hannity summed up the coward's mantra: "When I get on a plane I like to know I'm safe." Well guess what sugar-buns, I'd like to know I'm safe when I get in my car and drive down the road, I'd like to know I'm safe crossing the street, or going on a boat trip, but a RATIONAL person realizes this is IMPOSSIBLE to guarantee safety in life. We can't make the world of Nerf. So, the TSA's pageantry isn't REALLY about safety, it's about psychologically training the masses through fear and intimidation that the government IS god, and they can humiliate you and rob you of your natural human right to privacy and there isn't "anything you can do about it." I repeat, if you're fine with this, you are a COWARD. I'd rather die free than live in fear.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ed Fern

    What the TSA does at the airport is theater. A determined terrorist will get past them every time. I do not recall any news reports of them actually prevented anything. The theater does serve to discourage amateurs but will have no impact on the determined. So, if you will fly, there is a very small chance that you will die in the air instead of on the ground.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ted

    He who trades security for freedom deserves neither. I'm driving thank you!

    November 23, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dr. Joe Deeb

    Profiling will be my main concern. I hold USA Active top security Clearance. 3 weeks ago I was pulled out from the Security line and asked to go through Scanners Based on my Skin Color. I was the only one Pulled out from the line, I watched for 20 minutes after that and have not see any white person to go through the Scanner.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dee

    I have to laugh at these people calling those who are concerned about the new enhanced security requirements every nasty thing they can think of.

    I have been a road warrior for over 10 years. That's right, since before 9/11, and I have seen and experienced everything I never wished to.

    In early 2004, at the new Austin Bergstrom Airport, I boarded my regular flight to Houston. Unrealized to me, my boarding pass was branded with the dreaded "SSSS" for supplemental screening. And I did not go through supplemental screening. Until the TSA emptied the plane I was on (a 6AM flight). To add personal insult to collective injury, the TSA wanted ME to file a report as to how I got onto the aircraft with supplemental security. Let me just say that I told the TSA individual in the nicest terms I could to go pound sand. It was their failure, not mine. 150 people inconvenienced because of their failure, and somehow, it was my fault. All in the name of "secure" air travel.

    At McCarran airport in LV in 2006, I was threatened with jail for asking for a pat-down as opposed to going through yet another tedious machine that kept breaking down (A "puffer"). The chief who hounded me was very loud, very nasty and questioned the intelligence of my parents. All of this in front of 100's of people. Needless to say, I received my pat-down; no, it was not pleasant and I suffered a bit of humiliation: all in the name of "secure" air travel.

    While I have been compliant and respectful, in the years I have been flying I have been told off by more TSA agents than I can count. I have been sneered at, berated, threatened with arrest, told I was stupid, and yes, groped. My belongings have been pawed, tossed, trashed, lost and stolen. On the rare ocassion that I met with an agent who was professional and respectful, I considered it a gift from heaven.

    With the new procedures in place, I won't be approaching an airport any time soon. If you are coming to visit me, please catch a cab from the airport. While my livelihood has depended on my ability to be mobile on relatively short notice, I cannot maintain any level of self-respect or dignity and submit myself to these even more draconian procedures. If it means my income decreases, so be it. If it means I miss a wedding, so be it. And while I cannot eat self-respect, at least I won't want to slit my own throat when I look in the mirror for being such a cow as to comply with these procedures. And you can bet that those in DC don't have to either.

    You go ahead and submit yourself to these procedures. I don't choose to. And I am not stupid for not doing so "for the greater good."

    November 23, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. FunnyGuy

    This just in – TSA will handle more PACKAGES than FedEx.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Lisa

    I rather be go to the airport, wait hours, and have my children, & I patted down. I prefer to arrive at our destination SAFELY than take a chance on their lives ANY DAY OF THE WEEK!!! Being patted down is nothing compared to my children's lives. Even if I didn't have children, my life is worth more to me than a little inconvenience.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54