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. Jaime

    I think that most of them people complaining do not even use the airlines.

    November 23, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rodney

    It's either blow up a plane or get checked! That simple...
    I rather get my twins touched then blow up!! how about you?!
    Ooo yea we went to war over the planes blowing up too... did we already forget?!
    Or we can just profile people ! oo wait we can't do that either now ... damn.. might get sued for that too..
    so we can't profile... we can't touch you.. we can't scan you..
    ok.... let's blow something up...

    November 23, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Yours and your family's personal bodies and freedom are the only things worth dying for – they're going to put these scanners everywhere. They will be at intersections. They will be built into entrances to all the places you need to go. More tracking and scanning methods will be added to complement the scanners. You will be tracked, questioned, searched, and detained on a regular basis. Do you really want to live there? You gotta be braver than this man.

      November 23, 2010 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. couldubanydumber?

    Outrage overblown? You bet. Idiots like Alice who are living in a fantasy land of their own imagination are simply ridiculous. Alice doesn't need an airplane to fly. She's airborne already from the fumes of her delusions.

    November 23, 2010 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      I think you need to be braver than this. TSA agents are like your local security guard, only now with more power than the FBI in terms of their ability to handle you. You think this is a good idea? And people who are against giving this power to these people are having delusions? How much of a police state do you need to feel safe? Seriously – if you could make things just the way you want (and yes insult me if you like but also answer seriously), how would you have things work so that you wouldn't have to be afraid anymore? What would satisfy you? They're already handling your junk so what else?

      November 23, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Chuck

    Those that would take security over liberty deserve neither...

    November 23, 2010 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Walter S

    I live in New York and to travel abroad i will go to Canada or Mexico and them get into a plain...America is becoming a nasty police state and i will not go along with it!

    November 23, 2010 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. popeye1128

    Seems the terrorists have terrorized flying Americans. Mission Accomplished. They need to make a banner.

    November 23, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. LebanonKid

    With all the focus/attention on the screening process, I've been curious about what happens with your carry-on luggage, purses, shoes, cell phones, laptops, etc, while TSA has us occupied elsewhere. Has that part of the screening process changed as well? Constant announcements warn us to keep our "things" in sight lest anyone sneak bad things in them.
    Where's our Stuff, during the time the TSA is touching our STUFF?

    November 23, 2010 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Rene SF

    I'm so over all the hype over this garbage! if you want to fly, you have to go through security whatever the process is!!! i prefer being safe over ignorant just like most WHITE americans are! and CNN, FOX and the right wing are just idiots fueling fire!

    November 23, 2010 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Larksong

    I went through a pat down at the Frankfurt airport in 2006. Both of my breasts and my genitals were not just touched, they were squeezed by the woman doing the pat down. I demanded to speak to her supervisor because I felt violated. The supervisor said that the woman had acted totally appropriately, and that if I had a complaint, I should send it to my own government, since it was the U.S. regulations that required the German authorities to conduct those pat downs in that way. He said they only did that for flights heading to the U.S. I know the TSA is supposedly not being so intrusive, but after that experience, I frankly don't believe it. So, no, I won't fly if I have a choice. And if I must fly, well, I'll ask for a male to do the pat down and giggle when he does those areas. If I'm going to be made uncomfortable, I'm gonna make them uncomfortable, too!

    November 23, 2010 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dirty Old Man

      what if ............. you had explosives in your bra ? maybe hooked to the wire support ? It seems to me that a little push or squeeze may be necessary to feel the different textures. so what. you let your doctor do it right ? People need to stop flattering their own egos thinking personnel are getting off on this some how. I guarantee you that they are more tired of this than you. I would not want to feel up dudes all day long.

      November 23, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bozo

    cnn is just stooges for the power elite trying to manufacture consent.. this is OUTRAGEOUS! It's the wind up for the 'cavity search' coming w/ your next bomber..

    November 23, 2010 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Davis

    Hey all you complainers. You have options. (1) Don't fly. Oh, you say you NEED to fly? (2) Buy your own plane. Oh, you can't afford your own plane? Then (3) Buy a ticket on an airline and prepare to follow their rules. They'd prefer you not blow up their expensive plane so if they need to check to make sure you're not packing something, so be it. All you whining about your rights being violated, express your displeasure more appropriately by not buying tickets to fly. Those of us who don't mind a little extra security to avoid getting dead won't miss you at all.

    November 23, 2010 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Wolf

    This is very reminiscent of all those fantasy movies – you know, when the king and his goons spend all their time and effort shoring up the castle gate and then someone blows a hole in the wall.

    November 23, 2010 at 11:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. me

    no

    November 23, 2010 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. erexx

    The TSA is rotten from the top down and it wont change for a long time.
    Accept it as the normal abuse of power and move on.

    November 23, 2010 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dirty Old Man

    I am looking forward to being frisked. I may even tip the screener if they do me right.

    November 23, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
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