Friday, June 16, 2006

Does racial profiling work?

Maybe this will surprise some, but, in principle, I'm not opposed to racial/ethnic profiling at airports. If it actually does any good. Which, argues Patrick Smith, in this weeks Ask the pilot column from Salon, it doesn't.
Yes, the Sept. 11 skyjackers -- along with many around the globe who, we assume, desire to emulate them -- were, without exception, young Arab males. But that, however illogical it first seems, in no way suggests that obsessing over dark skin and Saudi passports is an efficient way to root out saboteurs. On the contrary.

The 19 skyjackers succeeded not because we failed to flag them -- in fact several of the cabal, including Mohammed Atta, were singled out by the CAPPS-1 (for computer-assisted passenger prescreening system) program then in place -- but because they knowingly anticipated what levels of resistance they would face, from previously gathered intelligence available to check-in staff, and, most important, physical resistance (or lack thereof) from passengers and crew aboard the four doomed Boeings. The attackers took advantage of the skyjack paradigm as it existed at the time. They did not exploit a loophole in airport security; they exploited a loophole in our mind-set and expectations. And whatever can be said of terrorists, they're generally not stupid; the more narrowly we profile, the easier the system becomes to skirt. Routine, as any security or antiterror expert will tell you, is weakness. The trouble with profiling isn't necessarily that it's racist or discriminatory. The trouble is that it doesn't work.

Which data points are we supposed to use? Formulating some religious-ethnic template becomes extremely unreliable. Most of the world's Muslims aren't Arabs. Not all Arabs are Muslims. Nearly half of Lebanon is Christian. Iranians aren't Arabs. Neither are Turks. Plenty of Syrians have red hair and green eyes. The Bali bombers weren't Middle Eastern, they were Asian. And the blabbermouth reactionaries who scream for ethnic profiling were mum when USA Today reported that al-Qaida was actively recruiting white Chechens.
[I found the "change in skyjacking paradigm article" to be convincing as well.

So, to be nicely un-PC, what about religious profiling? I mean today, aren't all the serious threats from Muslims? So, give all Muslims an extra once-over.

But, how do we know someone is a Muslim? By their name? What about American converts to Islam (caucasian or black)? What about converts from Islam? What about those whose name just "sounds" "Muslim"?

Not that easy. Nor desirable, IMO.

Behaviourial profiling. Now that sounds more promising. I just hope it's not a stupid bureaucracy like TSA that will try and implement that. Else, hopping about in the line 'cause you've got to go to the bathroom real bad will land you in the slammer ... :)

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