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. PhilipHades

    Nice article, absolutely no balance nor opposing opinions cited. If there were plenty of doctors, and unions questioning the FDAs claims about radiation and the pat downs were actual physical searches one would might call it propaganda. Fortunately everyone is a single mind.

    FYI I am on the far left, and I oppose these measures.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • tim oneill

      I am on the right and I also oppose these measures.

      November 23, 2010 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Question?

    The TSA says they are not able to save any of the scanner images. What if they find something using the scanner and arrest that person, charge them, etc, etc.. Are they saying that image can't be saved to used as evidence in a criminal case?

    November 23, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Clarification

      They don't say anywhere that images can't be saved, they only say that they won't be saved.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. gerald

    This issue does not rise to level of needing the Presidents attention. No more than NYC mosque issue did. Congress should field this issue or take the heat for it. They were the ones who created and more importantly funded TSA to take the actions to secure airline safety.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ibnezchick

    Whether you're for this or against it you should know that while all luggage is scanned, all *cargo* going onto passenger planes is *not*, including packages that originate outside the country. A law was passed but it is not being met yet by all airlines. Even mail wasn't all scanned until a few weeks ago.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mick Rice

    do you think these body images are really invasive – please – what if I draw a stick figure with genitailia and say that it is you? Is that going to make you feel like your body has been invaded? Really? And to see all the people on here referring to the Bill of rights. Heaven forbid but if a terrorist gets his hands on a dirty bomb and blows up a big city killing 1 million + people – YOU WILL BE WIPING YOUR BEHIND WITH THE BILL OF RIGHTS!! the public will demand Draconian measures (that will far surpass the body scanners of today) Get a grip people!!!

    November 23, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. carlo

    I will be flying in january and there's no way I'm going to let some guy touch me or this so called pat down that's just wrong and invasion of privacy and the full body scanner is ok as long as I don't become ill or sick from it if I do the airline will pay for my medical bills bc I know I wont

    November 23, 2010 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. BallerGrrl

    I can understand why people would not want to undergo a pat-down or full body scan. But, personally I was disappointed that I wasn't scanned last week, because I dig my body. I was going to request 8x10s of my scan! 🙂

    November 23, 2010 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. GGarr

    Privacy... Freedoms... "communist"... this is getting ridiculous. Some making issues out of this searching as if everyone will be groped and touched inappropriately, and using this issue as a platform to claim "Big Brother" is taking all freedoms away from us. B.S. You don't want to be searched? Go through the scanner. You trip the scanner and make the alarm go off? Too bad, you get searched if they can't find out what's making the device alarm. You want to skip the whole process? Get in your car and drive where you're going if it's in the United States or nearby country. The world we live in is getting ugly out there in some cases – unfortunately as a result, so are some of the things we have to do when we CHOOSE to fly someplace. I bet 98% of the people complaining here aren't even affected by this whole controversy anyway...

    November 23, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. gerald

    In case you Americans have forgotten we are in the middle of a war with a small army of suicidal mass murderers who will do anything they can to kill. These idiots have killed more Muslims than we would even want to in order to bend the masses to their viewpoint. Islam is terrified of the Terrorists who claim to fight on their behalf. In light of this the entire world has put into place security protocols to deny the terrorists easy targets of oppurtunity while our Armed forces track down these scattered bands of killers. This is what we face people. No one wants to but until we kill or capture all the Terrorists these measures will continue to be necessary.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carl Schmitt

      AT&T warrentless wiretapping.. Google backDoor for homeland security.. NYC cameras from 300 to 3000 in one year ..al awaki involved with terrorists for ten years while in VA next to CIA headquarters.. The obama fakes his death in Christmas eve middle of the night press release..wtc building number 7... Project for new American century letter to clintion in 1998, re: need for Iraq to undergo regime change, 3 years later ALL the authors of letter are in a national security position of power...emails read by NSA..regular street gangs being charged under terror laws ,cause they " terriorize" the community.. CIA black sites.. Unmanned drones heading to your city.. I could go on forever ,your civil liberties are already gone, right from under your noses..all cause of the terror bogie man! Classic political tatic from Athens to Rome to the crusades to germany to now

      November 23, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jim

    So now you train your children that "bad touch" isn't "bad touch" if the man or woman is wearing a uniform? Really?

    This is over the top. We take reasonable precautions now. Life has risks. Deal with it.

    And while we're at it, install the invasive patdown procedure at the Capitol, which is a whole lot bigger target for terrorists. And let Congress experience it each and every day.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lurker

      You've worded it the best. There is at least a silver lining here, there is now a job more attractive than Catholic Priest for pedophiles!

      November 23, 2010 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. chris

    overblown. americans what everything but don't want to be imposed upon.

    i've flown many times in the last 3 months and haven't been scanned once or had to opt for being searched. all these whiners make it sound like it happens to every person.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Clarification

      You should fly again and see if this is still the case. Some airports have recently installed more scanners and use them as primary screening for 100% of passengers.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Chris

    more whiney old white people who are getting a taste of what it's like to be a minority. being searched and detained for NO reason, well you tell me to get over it, so should you. oh yeah, don't forget the good 'ol "if you are innocent and haven't done anything wrong then you have nothing to worry about" so respect authority and shut up... hee hee heeeeee!

    i think these old white people are mad because a lot of airport security doing the searching are minorities, they don't like the reversal, give them a taste of things to come...

    November 23, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Zippy

    One month ago, people were flying without these procedures, now they're pooping their pants at the thought of boarding a plane without it. Way to go TSA.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Fric

    I'll be glad when we as a country get our baIIs back.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. maggie

    As a flyer who is through various TSA checkpoints twice a week, I can sympathize with how people, particularly those who don't fly very often, if at all, feel at the thought of what is being reported. I do believe it is being way overblown, fear driven by hype, hype driven by fear. While on the one hand, I think that some of the tactics that TSA uses are a bit bizarre (they wanded my hot coffee the other day to "test the vapors"), at the same time, none of us are privy to the intelligence they are receiving and trying to react to, often without the training that should realistically go with it. I think that TSA is well aware of that, and do believe that they are trying to balance the public's concerns.

    On the subject of holiday protests, people, whether you ultimately agree with the screening process or not, you know the price of admission. If you choose not to fly, it is unfortunate but understandable. If you choose to fly and engage in protest, my best bet is that you will be ticking off the rest of your fellow passengers more than the TSA itself. These folks are there for an 8 hour shift and they will spend it any way you wish them to. That is simply reality. Putting on a temper tantrum in the hopes of scoring a utube video is not going to make you very popular amongst other good people just trying to get home for Thanksgiving.

    Much has also been made about limiting these searches to profiled people. Are you kidding? Do you really think that Al Qaeda is going to send another 9 through the airports with bombs who looked like the last 9 on 9/11? Really? And if you are targeting people who look like Muslims for profiling, who exactly would we think we are targeting. I happen to have a good friend who is Muslim, whose last name is Ahmad, who is also tall, blond, blue eyed and more American in feature than many of us are. How would you know that she isn't dangerous? You wouldn't. Several years ago, a Pan Am plane went down due to a bomb placed in an unsuspecting Irish woman's luggage by her Muslim boyfriend - someone who never even went to the airport. How would you have profiled this to prevent this event?

    TSA is trying to do its job. They aren't perfect and they annoy the hell out of me quite often. But I'd rather be safe than sorry.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
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