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. Jonathan

    "CBS News survey showed 81 percent..."

    Enough with the mindless media idiots parroting some survey that took place 9 months ago, which is 7 months before any of the survey participants had to actually deal with the new airport security they were commenting on.

    November 23, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Leo Lovelace

    One thing is certain: officers of the Nazi regime, Germany's Third Reich, were also doing their job.

    November 23, 2010 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dave R.

    For those that are objecting, what is your solution? Assuming another terrorist attack attempted is not an option and given today's capabilities and technology, what is your solution? If you do not have one that will work, then shut up!

    November 23, 2010 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. J. Scott Moore

    Shut up and get scanned, patted down or whatever. Take your shoes off and get half naked if they want you to. Get over yourselves. Or would you rather blow-up, mid-flight? Quit your whining.

    November 23, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • bozo

      Idiot.. they're putting the bombs in body cavities now, which your 'pat down' and scanner won't do anything for.. get a clue moron.. this is just conditioning the people to have no self respect, and of course to pay the contractors/senators who have a stake in selling 3000 multi million dollar scanners..

      November 23, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rudolph

    TSA popped my cherry.

    November 23, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Secular1

    The way TSA has elected to increase security has mostly just raised the level of tension and anger during the screening process. I can tell you that I will be right on the peak of my anger level looking for any way to bark back at the agent touching me, and as soon as he hits the right nerve, I will have a spontaneous muscle contraction. Sorry, just a nervous twitch.

    November 23, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave R.

      What is your solution? Assuming another terrorist attempted attack is not an option and given today's capabilities and technology, what is your solution? If you do not have one that will work, then shut up!

      November 23, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Hey Dave R – you seem to think that anything is justified to prevent planes from blowing up. You're wrong. "What is your solution, what is your solution?..." – you are too much of a coward to live free in my opinion, Dave. Grow a pair man – we live in a dangerous world with crazy people where bad stuff happens – that's my solution. It's been 9 years man and nothing else has happened, which is really surprising. Just a bunch of a hokey screwups splashed across CNN and more power to the state. More Americans have killed Americans in crazy office shootings than terrorists by a wide margin. But lets say three attacks killing a total of another 3000 people had happened since 9/11 – subway, maybe a mall, and a NASCAR event. I still wouldn't support these measures. You sheep always ask "How many have to die before you'll agree to these safety measures the state has graciously organized for us" when what you should be asking is "How much am I willing to violate my freedom and principles to lower my chance of dying in a terrorist attack to zero per cent?" Apparently you're willing to throw it all away. This was the stated goal of the Islamo-fascists that attacked us. They said America would be scared and weak, and destroy itself from within from its own hypocrisy. That's what they said, Dave. "We're America, home of the free as long as you get your balls cupped." They are laughing their heads off right now.

      November 23, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Tom

    A famous and verified Scientific study showed that around 70 – 80% of ordinary US citizens would deliver a lethal dose of electricity to a non-visible patient in the next room that they COULD HEAR SCREAMING, as long as the instruction came from a guy wearing a lab coat and holding a clip board. Twenty per cent refused, some of them becoming violent. The people who go through the scanners without a second thought, who say flying is an option, who say these measures make us safer, who say we should just brand the muslims, who say the people protesting are bleeding hearts – those people are the 70% – 80% from the study (although polls show about 70%). The people fighting with everything they have to vocalize and educate people on the threat this represents – they are the 20%. To the guy who said "The Gov must know something's up to be using these measures" – you do not understand what's happening here. These measures will NEVER be removed. And, when the next attack happens and it will (because you can shove explosives up your ass and do all kinds of other things to get around this), even more drastic measures will be added to this nasty business. I think the endgame is chip implantation, but who knows. Feel like getting X-rayed our groped every time you go to the grocery story to buy franken-produce? Some of us might like that – not me. Do you know there's a glossy terrorist magazine out there bragging right now that it only cost about $5000 to produce all of this current chaos. Just some stuff from the local hardware store and a crazy patsy is all it took – underwear bomber. Please, 80%, help us keep you safe. Please?

    November 23, 2010 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. K.Wasyliw

    First of. I truly believe this is a tactic... Meaning placing FEAR in the American ppl. . I am in total disagreement of the way the US is sunjecting it's own ppl. to such a degree. It shows that it has fear in terriorism but I firmly believe it is being aimed at all the wrong individuals. Is shows that the US is soooo fearful of it's own citizens...perhaps they have reason to fear... for they are not looking after their own but rather allowing illegal immigrants a free life style while others as citizens of the US and ones who go through the proper channels of Immigrating to the US... pay the price.... while these illegals get a free easy ride at the cost of the American people.

    November 23, 2010 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jaime A. Cruz

    It's over. The terrorists have already won.

    November 23, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ace

    Joke – Give me a poll... 99% of Americans could care less about searches when traveling. I'd rather be safe than sorry. Come on – like anyone gets their jollies off from being searched. Give us a poll to prove TSA is doing the right thing by moving forward because of a few cry babies in life.

    November 23, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Nicks

    I'm a security professional with over 25 years military/anti-terrorism experience. Don't let TSA fool you, these pat-downs are searches, plain and simple. Further more, these type of searches, where TSA agents run their hands over people's private parts, are searches normally reserved for dangerous criminal suspects. The fact is, if a terrorist is trying to hide something, it's going to be hidden in their underwear or bra, so these types of searches do have a proper place in the security process. But, our government needs to get smarter and less politically correct in deciding who needs a full search, such as these invasive searches being "handed out" to modest people, who don't care for the full back scatter X-ray that virtually shows their naked bodies. There many clues a TSA screener could use in deciding who warrants a full body search. While terrorist can fit any profile, they are not typically senior citizens or small children. There are other clues TSA screeners could be trained to detect, such as, is the person nervous? Do they belong to a ethnic group known to commit terrorist acts? Are they between 18-40 years of age? And many other clues that might make a suspect eligible for further, detailed search. Would this training take time and expense? Of course, but we (the U.S.government) has had nearly 10 years to figure this out, but instead of training true security professionals, we react to the "threat dejur." TSA has failed the American people, because whenever a person is singled out for one of these TSA searches, they are telling the person, "you are a dangerous criminal suspect." The American people are not dangerous criminal suspects, but are being treated that way. TSA, I grade you a -F.

    November 23, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Razrbac

    Until they do a 100% scan of all cargo put in the belly of these planes, it is not about being safe, period.

    November 23, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. John Giardino

    When you go to a baseball game you might get hit by a ball and die. When you go hunting you might accidentally get shot and die. When you drive to work you might accidentally drive your car off a bridge and die. And when you fly, you might get blown up and die. These are the risks inherent in life. I would rather know the risks going in and not have to deal with security and invasion of freedoms than to delude myself into thinking we are all safe (we are not). Point is...we ARE ALL DYING (someday); grow some b**ls and act accordingly.

    November 23, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      I said this too but you said it better – brevity is best. 🙂

      November 23, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Razrbac

    Don't forget the Chertoff Group pushing these scanners, the Christmas bomber was escorted around the scanners and put on the plane without a passport. and Israel does not use the scanners or patdowns because they say they don't work. People wakeup, until they scan 100% all cargo gong into the belly of these planes, it is not about security, period

    November 23, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. TC

    The TSA might be a government run agency but I believe airlines are private companies. I'll fly the airline that requires good security checks and isn't so worried about hurting people's feelings.

    The majority of these offended "groped" people probably don't understand the mechanics of a full pat down. TSA agents are trained to look and feel for specific things. It's like any profession though – there are always going to be the bad apples. If someone is sticking their hand down your pants during a pat search then you probably should report them because I'm sure that's not how they were trained.

    November 23, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
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