Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Profiling at Airports.

Paranoia runs high in Britain these days - so much so that they are now considering profiling at airports:

Officials at the Department for Transport (DfT) have discussed the practicalities of introducing such a system with airport operators, including BAA. They believe that it would be more effective at identifying potential terrorists than the existing random searches.

Like anybody else, I find it stupid to hassle an 80 year old grandpa who has shrapnel in his leg from WWII or take the nail clippers from a mother when they actually sell them in stores after security checks – and frankly I tend to blame the stupidity of the people in charge of security more than anything else.
Obviously, the would-be terrorists are also all Muslims so profiling Muslims may seem like a good idea after all. It would probably help
greatly reduce lines at security gates and may prevent delays and all sorts of problems.
It is also true that profiling can be a rather sophisticated system which also includes
behaving suspiciously or having an unusual travel pattern.

But deep down, it’ll come to screening people also based on their ethnic or religious background and that could certainly cause more problems than benefits.

Metropolitan Police Superintendent Ali Desai said on British television such profiling, if based on racial appearance rather than solid intelligence work, would be counterproductive to counter-terrorist efforts.

"What you are suggesting is that we have a new offense in this country called 'traveling whist Asian.' It is unpalatable to everyone," he said. "It is communities which defeat terrorism, and what we do not want to do is actually alienate the very communities who are going to help us catch terrorists."

So in essence profiling Muslims will probably increase their sense of alienation. They will feel picked on because they will be. Even if the intentions may be good (i.e. increase security for all of us), it would come down to a form of apartheid in airports.

Tarique Ghaffur, an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said: “We must think long and hard about the causal factors of anger and resentment.
“There is a very real danger that the counter-terrorism label is also being used by other law-enforcement agencies to the effect that there is a real risk of criminalising minority communities.” (Times)

Even if you don’t consider the moral aspect of the whole idea, it will just widen the rift between the Muslim and the Western World. After all, the West claims to hold sacred values and needs to be somewhat coherent with its rhetoric.

The next question is obvious – where do you draw the line? Should you discriminate Muslims when they want to buy certain items? Or when they travel by train?

Even from a simple practical perspective, I am very skeptical of profiling.

  • How do you actually recognize a Muslim? What about if you’re black? If you’re light-brown? If you have olive skin because you have Italian heritage? That of course does not even take into consideration the fact that there are white Muslims out there also. Not just new converts – the Kabyle people in Algeria for instance are often white (look at Zidane) even with blue eyes.
  • Then what do you do next – ask people for their religion? Not the kind of world I want to live in.
  • The other series of question has to do with performance – do they really think those security people are subtle enough to do profiling? If, as they claim, profiling is a sophisticated system, it probably requires “sophisticated” people to handle it, and I think you’d probably have to spend a whole lot of money to find those people and hire them. (No offense meant to TSA or BAA people, but frankly, a lot of them do not seem to the brightest dudes in the world!).

The problem is that there is probably not a stereotypical image of a terrorist, and in any case, they are smart enough to come in all sorts of shape and form and they will most certainly adapt while in the meantime, we’ll have lost a lot more than what we may gain.

Delays can be a pain for sure, cancellation is worse and certainly if they lose your luggage, it gets even more frustrating but on the other hand, and not carrying liquid in your carry-on or reducing the size of your carry-on does not seem like such a big deal to me. I’d rather cope with those inconveniences than live in the world where people are checked because of their appearances. I certainly would not like my kids to grow up in that world.

We must keep a cool head about what is going on and so do the authorities.


NOTE: I guess this is also discussed in some circles in America:

A Fox News guest proposed having a "Muslims only" line for airport travelers, an idea that "Dayside" co-host Mike Jerrick called attention to it so that viewers did not overlook the proposal.Conservative radio host Mike Gallagher suggested the idea during a segment Tuesday (August 15, 2006) with constitutional lawyer Michael Gross discussing racial profiling. (Fox)

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