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. Linkspast

    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 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. BMOC

    Though it was extremely embassing for a woman to show a prosetic breast, image if that breast was a bomb! Terroists are always looking for new ways for terror. Whether a shoe bomb, or underwear, it is sad but nessisary in these times. I support pat downs, full screenings, whatever.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      fearmonger

      November 23, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      Sheep.

      November 23, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      There is NO might! It was NOT a bomb!

      November 23, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • FreqFlier

      And I support you, and those of you that want me molested on my way to work, not flying!

      November 23, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • anthropic1

      So what is to stop a terrorist from shoving an explosive device into a body cavity? Drug mules have been doing this for ages, so this is the next logical step. Will you allow the TSA to do deep cavity searches? Don't you get it, this type of screening is a lazy, poorly thought-out, CYA maneuver on the part of the TSA. It does nothing to eliminate real threats but it does succeed in terrorizing a large number of us.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Acroyear

      Then why do you ever leave our house if you are truly that afraid? It's stunning how fast we have become sheep.

      November 23, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Buzz

    Chances are that as long as you don't present some reason to be patted down, you never will. I fly constantly and only once have I ever had to go through additional screening and in my opinion it was very professional. As for children, I am aware of agents having confiscated on multiple occaisons weapons or other paraphernalia hidden on their person or in their possessions by relatives. If you are that squeamish, take the train.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Acroyear

      I have multiple metal implants...in the line of duty, protecting the freedoms you are willing pouring down the sink. Previous to the scanners I was asked to step aside, EVERY SINGLE TIME. Now they ask me to be part of a long term radiation experiment and just trust them it's safe. I don't trust them to keep the bleeping plane safe, let alone trust some high school level guy given a 16 hour course on the scanner to know what my safe dose of rads is! At what point are people going to decide they won't live in fear any longer...that the price of false security is getting too high?!

      November 23, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. PAUL

    I think there should be security. However I think we should employ the same type of security that is used in Israel. Our type of security is too invasive. Today they are giving groin pat downs, tomorrow maybe they will administer colonoscopys, endoscopys, cistoscopys, and disection. The way this government runs anything is possible.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Enough

    At what point do we say enough is enough? When you fly you are taking a risk – be it from mechanical problems, pilot error, or terrorism, anything can happen. I'm sick of people of who say "do whatever it takes to keep me safe”, eg" x-ray scanners, public molestations by government employees, cameras on street corners, etc. Life is not safe and it is not free from tragedy. I love my life but 100% safety is not worth all these invasions of privacy that are creeping into our lives. Accept that bad things happen in this world and get on with your life.

    And if you are so paranoid that you think these security measures are fine, then YOU stay home and don't fly. Let those of us who know that life contains risks board a plane without being x-rayed and molested.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tom

    If you have problems with patdowns...drive.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • chris McCabe

      Bullocks. We have the right to hear our concerns voiced without being condescended to or ignored. It worked for the pilots. It's about to work for the handicapped and cancer survivors, we might also benefit.

      November 23, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. FunnyGuy

    Say its a hot lady giving you a pat down and say you get some pleasure out of it. Can you ask for one more?

    November 23, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Acroyear

      Yes actually...having it be her choice and my choice...not be forced on the pair of us by some bureaucrat who is getting a share of the money when her leaves office and joins Chertoff.

      November 23, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Kamara

    You can call it over blown and say that a "majority polled" don't mind it all day long, I'll drive, walk or charter first.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • catluvgal

      Unless the surveys are stratified by travel frequency, they are pointless. Many of the people polled lilkely have not flown recently and/or don't fly frequently. Poll frequent and business travelers and I'm SURE a different result will be seen.

      November 23, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. David M

    I think the problem is not with the TSA workers in the airports, it's with the clueless people that are allegedly in charge of this beaurocratic nightmare known as Homeland Security. The workers are just trying to do their jobs as they are required. Do some of them get a little carried away? Probably so. But in all fairness, the average TSA worker is not to blame for all this. They didn't write the procedures. Unfortunately, they are the ones on the receiving end of all the backlash. I would love to see the big whigs get out of their offices and fly in coach and stand in line like the rest of us. I bet things would change then!

    Some comments were made about how many bombs have been found as a result of all this up close and overly personal security checks. Obviously, none have been found. But the bigger question is, how many have been prevented? We'll never know. Do we really want to find out??

    November 23, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. TJ - Dallas

    CHeck out his link of the security line posted on TSA youtube page. This was regarding some radio interview person and apparently something about how she was or wasn't treated. It didn't really interest me as much as it provided me with some insight into how the TSA picks people to be scanned.

    Take a look at it. No ryhme or reason. One guy with dreads receives a pat down, the guy right after him gets a pass. One lady is patted down extensively then dismised just as quickly.

    It appears, if you have a badge or work there, you bypass the scanner machine. I wonder if TSA agents have to pass throught the scanner to go to work. I am also suprize how easliy a TSA worker is allowed to pass from a secured area to a non-secured area.

    Here is the TSA link. Try to figure out their procedure. They don't have one. They don't have a procedure for pat downs. If a pat down is more extensive you would think it would be docuemented as to why it was so extensive. Then you have the issue of the bags being left unattended while the person is getting patted down. That is another issue altogether.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • TJ - Dallas

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trQp6V8dx7A&w=640&h=360]

      Sorry, forgot to post the link. – TJ

      November 23, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. N_Marko

    Ask yourself, do you fly? If you do fly, do you want to be screened out of the crowd to do a body scan or a pat down? If you are just 1 of 50 passengers chosen to be scanned, and everyone else gets to just go through the metal detector, does this make you feel safer?

    Does it make you feel safer that $30 million dollars was solicited by these x-ray companies to sell their equipment to the TSA?

    Who is making money from the government to protect us from terrorists and if a report by the government makes you afraid for your life when you fly, does it help you to know or does it help the industries that protect us?

    How many in this poll fly regularly? If terrorists start bombing other places, do we install scanners and have pat downs at stadiums?

    November 23, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  12. David M

    Maybe McVeigh really was a Muslim.....in drag!

    November 23, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tina

    Our government doesn't want to offend people in Arizona by asking them to show their ID. They find this so offensive they are suing the state. They have no problem "patting down" children getting on airplanes, or taking revealing photos of them. I bet more Americans have been killed by illegal immigrants over the last ten years than by terrorist.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • romywhite

      The AZ issue has nothing to do with offending people. Are you truly this stupid, or just a good pretender?

      November 23, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jackie

    5 reasons National Opt-Out Day is stupid: http://thejetpacker.com/5-reasons-why-national-opt-out-day-is-stupid/

    November 23, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • juljo

      DUH! That's as brilliant as Adminstrator Pistole saying "all you're going to do is slow things down. I need hear no greater incentive than to opt out early and often – EVERY CHANCE I GET.

      #1. Airport security is meant to protect us.
      In theory, yes. And the people who went to the 16 hour training class probably believe this. This is a case of poor management. What we are doing now is not security. PLENTY of experts have said as much, and have pointed out why this knee-jerk reaction to the last threat is not making us more secure. This is relying on something that happened before, the next attempt will be a cavity search or how about all of that unscreened cargo? If they were serious about protecting us they’d be stopping terrorists before they reached the checkpoint. Consulting with experts in places like Israel who interviews all passengers and relying on human intelligence.
      #2. X-Ray scanners deter terrorists.
      In what world? Do you really think that terrorists have just called it off because “damn, they have x-ray machines!”
      #3. People hate pat-downs more than X-ray scanners.
      That depends how you feel about radiation, having a naked image of you being created (and btw – if someone has a camera phone on duty – nothing stopping them from snapping shots) or if say you wear an insulin pump you’d get both so why not opt out?
      #4. It’s rude to other passengers.
      Which is exactly why this is effective. The more people who are angry the more people complain. Once the Airlines start losing money from this they’ll be advocating for change too.
      #5. TSA agents are just doing their jobs.
      I didn’t choose their line of work. It is not my fault they have poor training and management. If I was at any other place that treated me this way – I’d ask questions. I’d ask to speak to a manger and you bet I’d file a formal complaint. “shucks, he’s just doing his job” is not a reasonable excuse for being treated poorly.

      November 23, 2010 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. GC

    Political correctness run-amuck again. In principle, I have no problem with either the full body scan or the pat down as long as we use some common sense. But as usual, the government wants to ignore what is obvious to everyone else in the world. Looking for “things” such as bombs, guns, etc. is fine, but what the TSA should be more focused on is looking for and at “people”. Forget about Grandma and the ten year old. Look for Mohammed Atta!!! Sorry if it offends the politically correct. Until we get this simple fact through our politically correct head, we are in peril.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
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