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.
Still, it’s unclear whether these are just isolated incidents.
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.
The TSA even released a list of “myths and facts” about pat downs and other security measures.
No doubt passengers still have some concerns. 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?
“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?
“Would you feel safe? Would you want to live in such a country?
Why all the hoopla?
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?