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. John

    This is absolutely terrible reporting on the part of CNN. The simple question of how much longer the process takes was even fumbled by this mindless numbskull that, despite the numerous "umm"s "uhh"s and other reflections of a severe drop in intellect. And then when she did say anything of substance it served to further condemn the TSA procedures "we want to keep the traveling public guessing" in other words, we don't want people to know their rights or what they are consenting to. I simply don't understand any form of legitimacy the TSA tries to put on these policies. The TSA must either stop bulldozing personal and privacy rights or be shut down. If not, the President should be impeached to find out exactly what he is doing in his oversight of this tyrannical agency.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seraphim0

      Yes, because if someone touches me during a pat-down, the President deserves to be impeached. Do you ever look at what you type before hitting send? Look at it, seriously read it. Aloud if you have to.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. HarmNone

    Scanners are not safe:
    http://networkedblogs.com/aVHPr

    November 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Damien

    firstly those shouldn't be called a pat down search, a pat down search is what a police office does to you before placing you in his patrol car, these TSA searches are full body searches, not cavity, but full body. as bad as both are i'd have to think the body scanners are less invasive, but again, i believe we do need security but aren't we doing exactly what the government told us NOT to do after 911-living our lives in fear, i myself will never fly again as long as these so called "pat down" searches are being done

    November 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Noelle

    Thanks to Dr. Sanjay Gupta for his comprehensive report. It is just as I thought: TSA scanners are useless & more for show, while and 'grab & grope pat-downs' are intrusive and demeaning. (If one does not opt to go through the irradiation process, they must go through the thorough pat-down procedure (1-notch sort of a cavity search). For all who allege we are 'whining pansies' or worse, the flip side is being a lemming...really better off diving over a cliff.

    Check out the link & 'follow the money': http://youtube.com/watch?v=VucstNtPy0Q&feature=player_embedded#!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Canadian Sam

    Wow, so one random women, who used to and still consults for the TSA says, I "believe" it would stop something, everyone just chews it up and swallows it? What a crock of s.....

    November 23, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Biff

    So basically there have been two horror stories, out of how many millions of travelers (I don't count a father being a jerk at his son's expense)? If you don't want to get patted down or go through a scanner, don't fly. That is your right to choose.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Canadian Sam

      How's the constant fear in your life Biff....sounds to me like you don't deserve freedom.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      sounds like you don't fly very much... (if at all)

      November 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • E_V

      That is one of the most asinine arguments ever – "Don't like it, don't fly". This is the US, not Europe. You cannot easily drive or take the train from coast to coast. It can take days just to get from Seattle to LA thanks to our crap rail system. I am not the one who is afraid, so perhaps people like you should stay home and wallpaper your walls with tinfoil instead of flying.

      I'm not particularly worried about pat downs or radiation, but I am not a fan of being exposed to radiation or being patted down for what amounts to no reason what so ever. TSA has never stopped an attack. All the attempts to bomb planes since have actually made it onto flights: show bomber, underwear bomber, cargo bombs.
      I am far more concerned about things like monitoring cargo, trucking, containers in ports, etc. All of these things are things that get little to no attention from anyone. Why? Because it's not front and center in our lives. But we DO see them at airport so it's a great symbol of "look – we're fighting terror, you are safe!"
      But you're not. You never will be. Get over it and get on with your life.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • DC

      🙂 I choose not to be molested by this government farce, and hope that the price of your future tickets jump 10 times what you pay now! With a name like Biff, I suppose you'll be a TSA agent when you grow up.

      November 28, 2010 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. John

    Muslim women are often not asked to show their faces but white children are forced to be strip searched.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • tejano2k

      Get a life, John. It's apples and oranges. Stooping down to your level, I would probably think that President Obama's fingerprints (and lack of birth certificate) are all over this issue. Don't want to comply? Don't fly.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • KC

      That child was not strip searched. His DAD took his shirt off to expedite the process. So tell me how this isn't a case of the media overplaying the situation?

      November 23, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shawn

      It's ridiculous the amount of sensationalism you clowns us. The father of that child without a shirt on took his shirt off, NOT the TSA. But who needs facts when you can use lies, anyways?

      November 23, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eldon

      shawn you missed the facts they grouyped the little boy it has got nothngto do with the shirt

      November 23, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      That is what you call taking it to the extremes. You said they are Muslim women are OFTEN not asked while white kids are FORCED to be striped searched. This is CNN, not FOX...although sometimes its hard to tell.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. tejano2k

    What's all the hassle about? Why is there ANY leeway granted by TSA to start with? The rule, as the dearly departed Johnnie Cochran might say, should be, "If you don't comply, you don't fly." That would put a stop to all of the incessant whining. I hate to fly as it is but when I do, I do so understanding the rules in place. Overkill? I think so, but I bought the ticket knowing what the game was. Grow up, America!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      if you hate to fly, why do you really care about what the TSA doesnt or doesnt do? Unless youre an avid traveller who spends hours of the life each year waiting in security lines, you should be a bit more respectful to those of us who have to put up with the TSA on a regular basis. Do we have to fly? Maybe... if our job requires it. Or is that our fault too? Please respect the perspective of all of us who regularly fly.... we're the one who do most of it anyways and help make ticket prices as cheap as they are for when you make that one flight every two years.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Steve

    OK, I will say what everyone wants to say but we are to PC to say it. Lets just do the correct profiling!!!!!!!!!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tonyb

    Here's a solution- two plane options, one with no security and one with full security. You choose Mr/Mrs passenger. Charge extra for the lack of security in case the plane goes boom. Or take the train or bus. Get over it.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ddid232

      Yeah, why don't we do this? And considering a plane goes "boom" and only 90 people die every few years compared to the 40,000 people who die in car wrecks each year, the insurance better be pretty low for the "TSA-Free" plane.

      More people die from drunk drivers behind the wheel than from terrorists making planes go boom. Why haven't we done massive installs of installing in-car breath analyzers before a car can go anywhere???

      The hysterics about being safe from terrorists is just crazy. Lets be hysterical about drunk drivers.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. TJ

    We've gone from "Give me liberty or give me death" to "Get pat down or get blown up" and the press thinks the latter is actually clever, thoughtful and making a valid point?

    No.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ray

    Safety first. People want others to be screen, but feel they should not. If I ride a plane, I want all to be screened, even me. This is the world we live in for being in other country business.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sickofthiswhining

      Very, very good point. It takes a lot of balls for many of these bloggers to essentially say go screen someone else, just not me because I'm fine. Well, I don't think you're fine and you may not know that I'm fine. Get it?

      November 23, 2010 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  13. everyone

    Another shameless scam to move money from the fearful to the pockets of the profiteers.

    Don't be a sap. Fly commercial air and you'll get all the abuse and outrage that you deserve.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. 66Biker

    I think it's stupid. Specially when the government is supposedly trying to boost the economy during what is now being called "The Great Recession". But you can't do anything about it. If you make too big of a fuss about it you will only get yourself arrested. (Remember the USA PATRIOT Act?) So if these airport security measures bother you, don't fly. Stay home and write a letter to your Congressman about it. It would be very helpful if you have any better ideas, but don't hold your breath waiting for those ideas to be used if you have any...

    November 23, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Trace

    It seems to me that if you don't want to be embarrassed/harassed, all you have to do is accept going through the body scanner. Its not like you have to take your clothes off or anything. Really how much does this invade your privacy? If you opt out you probably should have an idea that its only going to be more of an inconvenience to you. This just adds more fuel to the fire as to why other countries see us in a bad light. Something that's done for our own safety and to prevent another 9/11 from happening and there is public outcry about how it takes away our freedom? I guarantee you the family members of passengers on those flights that day wish that the body scanners would have been implemented back then. Grow up America!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • D

      You can go through the scanner, but if it is triggered you have to endure the pat down, too. So, if I go to get on a plane and I'm wearing an underwire bra, scanner or not, I'm going to get felt up.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • ChipH

      Wear a cup, and in the cup, have one of those JackInTheBox snakes. There is no law against having a snake in your pants.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan H

      Even if you choose to go through the body scanner you may still be gropped. I had a friend who went through the scanner recently and becasue of a name tag they then did the full body pat down anyway.

      They are not being truthful when they say you have a choice of being touched or not.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trace

      Here's an idea....don't wear an underwire bra then. There are options. If you know that will trigger the scanner, why wear it?

      November 23, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trace

      when you say nametag, do you mean a "Hello My Name Is" nametag or do you mean a dogtag like soldiers wear?

      November 23, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
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