Profiled

A debate-provoking cartoon from Cox & Forkum:

Profiling remains a high controversial and emotional issue. Those who are unjustly fall into the net cast by those using profiles are upset because they feel they’re being stereotyped, singled out and persecuted beause they’ve done nothing wrong.

On the other hand, if it turns out that the threat is coming from X number of people who fit a Y profile, then given what is at stake erring on the side PC at the expense of caution could be costly, indeed.

And it’s highly likely that any administration, whether it’s Republican or Democratic, will move strongly towards the heavy use of profiling — if there is another future deadly attack and it turns out that the attackers fit a profile but the profile wasn’t used due to fears of a PC outcry.

One alarming way of looking at this, is that we’re in the early 21st century in the “beta phase” of responding to terrorism. Terrorism policies could be drastically fine-tuned if there are new events forcing the fine-tuning. And, chances are, there will be more events during this already bloody century.

UPDATE:
Should our airlines and officials profile in the style of Israel’s El Al airlines?

7 Comments

  1. Maybe this is a silly question but, are there any studies that show that profiling works? Are there any that show that it DOESN’T work?

    In an intuitive sense, it’s logical to suppose that if most attacks are coming from muslims then letting the jewish grandmothers pass and stopping 25 year-old arabs isn’t entirely irrational. On the other hand, people forget that there is an INMENSE muslim population in Asia, including radical islamic groups. If we stop just scruffy young arab men, then it won’t be long until an asian man in a bussiness suit comes a’knockin.

    I really don’t know the answer to the question. I certainly think that PC is less important than security, but I wonder about how effective profiling really is. If it works, use it, 10.000 offended passengers are worth less than 200 dead ones.

  2. It has begun. I wrote this in my Blog post this past week, “I did notice something strange while waiting for my flight near the Gate, since I had much time to sit and watch people come and go. In the stream of passengers from Gate to Gate, I noticed several people who looked like they could have been from the Middle East. What I noticed was nothing particular about them, but I did notice other people looking at them in a way that seemed less than hospitable and friendly towards them.” Ther’s more to the story but passengers are starting to do their own profiling. Blog post title is: “Bigotry, racism and terrorism – Is there any hope?”

  3. I think part of what effective profiling means is also behavioral profiling. The link I put up as an update has some interesting info. As for studies, I don’t know about that. What is definite is that El Al has been highly successful for many years in weeding out people who want to do things to their flights.

  4. Behavioral profiling makes a lot more sense because regardless of the racial/civil rights concerns, the larger question is whether or not profiling even works. If the answer to that is no, then why even bother trying to justify it?

    I’m not saying that I’m convinced it doesn’t work but I think that any racial, ethnic or religious profiling will inevitably become less useful over time as the would be terrorists learn that the profiling is being used. We’ve already seen that with the recruitment of European muslims, women, etc.

    The terrorists can work around racial, gender and ethnic profiling, but I believe that thorough, professional behavioral profiling would still be able to spot suspicious behavior. The question is, do our security agencies have the proper training in this and can it be done in a significant way without disrupting passenger flow in a higher volume system like ours as comparied to Israel.

  5. Whenever I’ve talked to people that have flown El Al, they’ve said that screening and security have taken a very long time. Not only was there profiling, but all bags were completely emptied and every object inspected (I’m not sure whether this is ongoing or it was just at a heightened state). I don’t think people here will ever accept the trade off.

    C Stanley, this is exactly what I heard a security expert say a few years ago on the news (I actually happened to be in an airport at the time). He said that “characteristic-based” profiling should not be used because studies have shown the only effective profiling is behaviorial with a layer of random searches. The idea is that not only do random searches have a better chance of working than ethnic profiling (due both to the fact the terrorists will change and the bias it creates in the security team), but that the randomness will make it easier to do behavior profiling on people that aren’t being searched.

  6. Once upon a time I was an airport screener. – Got into an argument with a radio talk show host who felt that pairing up People to their bags was useless – I believe his comment went along the way of – should they feel a guy’s jewels to make sure they’re his.

    Don’t know if he regrets that show or not, But I had said to him that there are degrees of security – and that it worked – they went from about 10 hijackings a year in the late 60′s to early 70′s to 1 when screening started happening – then years of zero.

    During the training back then (early 90′s) they said not to profile – as the Arab looking young guy could be less dangerous than the Caucasian looking young guy. True enough, anyone could be Muslim, anyone could have a grudge about something and decide to do it. But human nature is to profile, it’s just being PC that causes us not to profile. And it’s us being complacent – and not wanting to be bothered with taking off our shoes to go through security (I heard peeps complaining about it just this past weekend when I last flew). We forget easily. Heck I remember flying out of Berlin while the wall was still up and getting frisked down before getting on the plane (after going through a metal detector and having my carry on x-rayed). Everyone did – it’s just the way it was.

  7. The problem I have with the post is that this is presented as an issue of security versus political correctness. Supposedly, security says to profile, but we don’t want to offend people, so we don’t profile. That seems to be how it is presented. But that’s not the issue. It’s not an issue of security versus being PC; it’s one of security versus civil rights. Do we treat people differently because of the color of their skin or their religious beliefs? If you think of it this way, it has nothing to do with causing offense (a minor matter of being P.C.), and a lot more to do with upholding the very values we claim to hold dear.

    As for whether characteristic or behavioral profiling is better, I have no idea. But when making such a decision you also need to think about the other consequences beside the possible short term security benefits. The problem in the Middle East is not that you have thousands of crazy people trying to kill innocents. The problem is that too many not crazy people will will either tacitly support them or turn a blind eye. The problem with the administration’s wars is that they legitimately go after the crazies but forget about what is happening to the possible supporters. If one starts invading the rights of American citizens for a possible immediate gain, will you make a few more of them increasingly likely to turn their own blind eye to what they have seen or not report what they have heard? Right now the vast majority of American Muslims are supportive of the American government. It would be nice to keep it that way. If the consequence of maintaining good relations with all American citizens is that some grandmothers’ purses get searched, I’m OK with it.

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