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. Hillary

    This is just more erosion of freedom under the Obama regime. If Obama believes that subjecting millions of law-abiding citizens to unreasonable searches is necessary, he should get out front and take ownership and responsibility for the behaviors of the TSA instead of hiding behind his bureaucrats and letting them take the heat for more misguided policies from his administration.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      These are NOT new TSA procedures under the Obama adminstration. They have been going on for several years.

      This is all Geore W Bush's fault for caring more about his vacation in Texas thatn a PDB on Aug 6th 2001 that was headlined Bin Laden determined to strike in US. BUSH FAILED then and he failed in Afghanistan, that's why President Obama is being worked over trying to clean up all of Bush's messes.

      My husband was pulled aside in 2006 and had his brief case checked for explosive material and then got patted down.

      November 23, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rediculous

    If you have a problem with these regulations you should clearly leave earlier and drive. I have multiple family members that have to go through pat downs and x-ray protocol in airports due to surgery. This may be uncomfortable, but would you rather allow anyone on an airplane with no security check points?

    November 23, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Chopswell

    FUK THE TSA, THIS GOVERNMENT, THE FEDERAL RESERVE BANK AND OBAMA. BUNCH OF SELF-SERVING, LIBERTY STRIPPING COMMUNISTS!

    November 23, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • ray

      So how many times did you have to take the IQ test to reach 10?

      November 23, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • B

      Right in The money.

      November 23, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. William Carlucci

    It is more important to ensure the safety of our country. I would rather be violated than run the risk of allowing a terrorist harm our country. People need to realize that these searches are not actually that bad, people are complaining because they are mostly an inconvienence.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      You are a sheep. Freedom is easy to give away, hard to obtain. Ask the Germans in the 1930s. Which this situation looks very much like.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Acroyear

      I'll tell ya bud, Joseph Goebbels just loved people like you.

      November 23, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Kelly5

    This is just typical CNN Pablum propaganda that completely misses the point: Our civil rights are being infringed with these heinous and invasive TSA procedures. The question is not whether we want a pat-down or to be blown up. That is a false contrast. The pat-down does not catch every possible type of explosive, nor does the Chertoff-sponsored X-ray machine.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Len Smith

    If you don't like the security requirements, than don't fly. I have flown every week to Chicago and back to Baltimore and never feel that my rights are being infringe, in fact, I am thankful for the job that is being done to keep this country safe. Don't fly if it brothers you.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      How about NO molestations or naked scans, and if you don't like it you don't fly? That's just as fair and now neither one of us will have our rights violated.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  7. GAPeach

    What is the big deal! So you have to have a pat down or go through a scanner! Better than being on an airplane that is blown up and if you don't like it, then drive!!! and S T F U

    November 23, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Len Smith

    If you don't like it don't fly.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. matt hicks

    Try wearing one of these "Don't Touch My Junk" tshirts: http://www.etsy.com/listing/62810884/avazava-dont-touch-my-junk

    November 23, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. gerald

    this whole episode is media driven with CNN trying to keep up with Fox News drivel machine. Who wants to be on the first plane blown up by a terrorist bomb? There is a war on people! Precautions have to be taken or would you rather die in a fiery plane crash over a major US city?

    November 23, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Acroyear

      If the alternative is to meekly, without complaint, without any protest watch freedoms get whittled away...YES!!

      November 23, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • ray

      The fact is Gerald, they really don't care about the search. They just want to complain about anything that they think they can pin on Obama. It's called Tea Part expression. The only requirement is that you have to have an IQ below 15.

      November 23, 2010 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mary

    If our soldiers have to put up with the inconvenience of living in a S-hole like Afghanistan, than I can put up with the inconvenience of a pat down or scan.

    Besides, the last time I flew this year, it was NOT a big deal. The TSA pats down the clothes over the body to check for differences in the bulk of the clothing and the silhouette of the person-whoopdee do!

    November 23, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Lee

    Let the President and Veep and their families go first, then Congress and their families who are allowed to bypass security already. Then ask the rest of us to embrace it. My 88 year old mother was groped because she has a pacemaker and cannot go through the scanners.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • ray

      Is liar your middle name Lee?

      November 23, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Katie

    If the opt-out people cause me to miss my flight tomorrow, *I'll* show 'em "civil disobedience"....

    November 23, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Acroyear

      So I'm supposed to risk bone marrow cancer for your convenience? Get stuffed!

      November 23, 2010 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Truth Hurts

    Dear Citizens,

    We would like to inform all of you that the TSA will continue the genital groping before boarding any plane in the US. We will do this because this is the best possible defense against terrorism from cavemen, who live thousands of miles away, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran or any other middle east country. And to be extra safe, it doesn't matter if you look like you're from the middle east, we'll just treat you all like prisoners (guilty before innocent). We'll line you up, collect your belongings, zap you with a mild dose of radiation so we can see through your clothes and look at your naked bodies. We'll repeat the process as many times as you use our transportation service regardless of the harmful effects of the radiation. If you decide that you don't want to be zapped by our radiation, degraded by our "naked body" scanning system and treated like holocaust victims...we'll simply announce your "Opt Out" as loud as possible, call for backup, make you hold your arms out like a criminal and proceed to feel every part of your body with our gloved hands. And that includes putting our hands down your buttocks and front genital area with the same gloves we used on the person in front of you. Don't worry, this will not spread germs. Remember, this is for your safety and to line the pockets of Michael Chertoff (Our former Homeland Security Secretary who pushed for the new Body Scanners because he works for and is heavily invested in the company that makes them).

    Don't mind all the open corruption taking place in Washington and Wall Street
    Don't mind the illegal Banker Bailouts that you, your children and your grandchildren will be paying off (with interest)
    Don't mind that more jobs are being outsourced to 3rd world countries and that we are making it difficult for the private sector to thrive
    Don't mind the corporate CEOs getting record bonuses
    Don't mind increased taxes
    Don't mind the lower wages
    Don't mind the government takeover of the healthcare system & automotive industry
    Don't mind the TSA putting their hands on you and your children...and into your pants
    Don't mind tha Michael Chertoff is making millions off the sale of these intrusive scanners and doesn't care if they give you a dose of radiation
    Don't mind the fact that the Body Scanners are dangerous
    Don't mind that the Amsterdam Bombing incident was exposed as a fraud
    Don't mind all the Terrorist Propaganda we put out, while we leave the borders wide open
    Don't mind that 9/11 has been proven to be a fraud and is being ignored by our news affiliates

    We are doing all of these things to keep you Safe and Secure and we would not LIE to you!

    Wake Up America!

    November 23, 2010 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • ray

      The only thing that hurts is that about 30% of the people: don't know what critical thinking is; are so stupid that the can't look our for their own best interests and then whine when the state protects them in-spite of themselves; and they continue to think that George Bush was a great president. Please, all over you who fit into this category – pool your resources – start and airline with no pat-downs and reduced security features. Plane by plane your numbers will decline and the rest of us won't have to listen to your drivel any longer.

      November 23, 2010 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Art M.

    I don't understand how conservatives can on one hand say that the armed forces could be IRREPARABLY HARMED if Don't Ask – Don't Tell is repealed because some gay man might look at a straight soldier's penis in a shower, destroying his ability to fight or work effectively, but people who are objecting to TSA perverts ogling x-rated x-rays are WHINERS and are OVERREACTING.

    Then again, I NEVER understand the hypocrisy of conservatives, so there you go.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
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