Why We Need Airport Passenger Profiling

Tsa-pat-down-old-ladyb Profiling is common (and indeed common sense), accepted, and a positive part of our daily lives.  People and businesses profile us and base their interactions with us on the profiles they perceive.  We in turn do the same to and with them.

But when we get to an airport (and, sadly, for much of law enforcement in general), we enter a zone of unreality which, alas, has no room for common sense, profiling, or even true security.  Instead, we have to play a dangerous and inconvenient game of ‘let’s pretend’, where we pretend we are all potential terrorists hell bent on destroying the plane we’re ostensibly innocently flying on to make a business meeting, to go back home, or to visit friends and family.

This game of ‘let’s pretend’ refuses to acknowledge that some of us are more dangerous than others, even though we all know who these people of greater danger are.  And the game of ‘let’s pretend’ also refuses to acknowledge that some of us are very much less dangerous than others, even though we again all know who these people offering no danger are.

The game of ‘let’s pretend’ inconveniences us, but that should be the least of our worries.  It also reduces the effectiveness of airport security screening as a whole, making it much easier for terrorists to slip through and wreak such havoc as they choose on our planes, ourselves, and our country’s already faltering economy.

Please read my full article about Why We Need Airport Passenger Profiling – your life may depend upon it.

Warning :  Graphic phrases of political incorrectness were used in the writing of this article.


11 thoughts on “Why We Need Airport Passenger Profiling”

  1. There are essentially two different types of profiling. One, which you seem to be promoting here, is racial/ethic profiling. It’s been looked at and abandoned nearly everywhere. Why? First, because it is, by definition, discriminatory. It will inevitably engender anger and resentment within the pool of people most apt to be recruited for terrorism. It will make things worse, not better. In fact, it already has, because as you say “informal profiling” already exists. It’s called racism and the poorly paid and poorly trained people employed at airports practise it regularly. Ask any Muslim traveller.
    The second type of profiling is behavioral. This is already employed to varying degrees throughout the aviation industry, with highly variable degrees of success.

  2. By the way, with regard to your comment: “And of course, 90% (probably more) of all Muslims around the world are not terrorists and may be as opposed to terrorism as is everyone else.”
    That is just so uncomfortably close to the ridiculous Glenn Beck claim last week that 10% of the world’s Muslims are terrorists that I simply have to call you on it. Please. Get real.

  3. I would suggest, if you can access it, that anyone interested in efficient protection at the airport read the article by Kevin Rafferty on Air Security at http://www.scmp.com/portal/site/SCMP/menuitem.2af62ecb329d3d7733492d9253a0a0a0/?vgnextoid=c430fc8d044fc210VgnVCM100000360a0a0aRCRD&ss=columns&s=opinion.
    As a resident of Hong Kong, I can support his contention that HK Int’l Airport does a very efficient job of screening passengers without imposing ridiculous indignities on the passengers.
    Perhaps we can hope that some kind of critical mass of people, who realize that Security as practiced in the U.S. is makes us neither secure or safe, will rise up to protest not only the indignities but the huge cost of maintaining a system that doesn’t work. Perhaps the terrorists, who will some day get past all the security, will force those in power to really look at the monster they have created.

  4. I think Dave is suggesting Behavioral profiling, not racial profiling. If some kind of explanation is provided when someone is pulled aside for additional screening because of a perceived behavior, the contention that the reasons were racial could be effectively negated.
    Please do not insult my intelligence by stating that every terrorist incident involving air travel has NOT been perpetrated by Muslims. Do the math.
    in our current system, every citizen who is encouraged to report suspicious behavior in airports and other venues is being asked to do profiling. The sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic results of this governmentally induced paranoia are in the news almost daily. I’d much rather have trained professionals doing the job.
    Profiling works as El Al’s experience shows.

  5. Ed – Perpetrators have been Muslim only in relatively recent times. More to the point, they have not always been Arab or Mid-Eastern. There is no Muslim “look.”
    I agree with you (and David, if this is what he intends) that some form of behavioral profiling can help channel resources more efficiently.
    El Al uses predictive profiling, which is behavior-based, because the Israelis learned long ago that racial profiling doesn’t work. But as David points out elsewhere, El Al is a small airline and its program is not scalable for application everywhere.
    My point is that there is a terrible tendency to think that the inconveniences of air travel will disappear if we send all young male Muslims down their own queue at the airport. It won’t help and, on the contrary, will inspire hatred in at least some.
    There is no magic fix.

  6. A couple of quick responses.
    First, I think you’ll find that Israel does indeed racially profile. If you’re an Arab in Israel, expect to be selected for extra screening as a matter of course. This is what Israelis tell me, with no embarrassment at all.
    And so I don’t agree that racial/ethnic profiling has been looked at and rejected everywhere, indeed, in addition to Israel, and as FH himself well knows, it is also active in a country we both know very well – ask any ‘Caucasian’ (ie resident of the Caucuses, not white person in the sense we mean it) in Russia about how often they are singled out for extra police scrutiny.
    As for putting young male Muslims down their own special line at airports, this is a definitional thing. As I said in the article, there is positive and negative profiling. By that I mean positive profiling identifies people who are lower than normal risk, negative profiling identifies people who are greater than normal risk.
    I really don’t mind if we adopt positive or negative profiling (ideally both). But to treat everyone as equal risk, which they most decidedly are not, is just not sensible or efficient or effective.
    Lastly, will negative profiling make those people who hate us already, hate us more? I neither know nor care. I’d rather be safe with an angry enemy, than be at risk with an enemy I’ve tried – but failed – to appease. I don’t think FH is suggesting that if only we treated angry Muslim extremists with even greater kindness and accommodation than we already do, that would cause them to give up on their crusade to destroy the west.
    Well, maybe, it might – because in giving in to their every demand, we’d end up indistinguishable from them, complete with Sharia law for all and burqas for our women.

  7. Thanks for clarifying that in fact you were promoting racial profiling.
    No, Israel does not employ racial or ethnic profiling. The Hindawi case (in which explosives were found on a non-Arab woman) taught it not to, as did the even earlier (1972) instance of Japanese baddies attacking Lod Airport on behalf of Palestinian baddies.
    As for “positive” profiling — if you mean Aunt Betty and Uncle Bob ought to get a free pass because they’re white and middle class, see above re Hindawi. Mr Hindawi tricked his British fiancée into being his stooge.
    Single out one characteristic for law-enforcement attention, and the bad guys will surely use that against you.
    Re: “Lastly, will negative profiling make those people who hate us already, hate us more?” You’re saying all Muslims hate you? Well, poor you. But I’m not surprised.

  8. Your setting up a straw man to justify your views. Using relevant information such as credit scores for credit cards, donations for fundraising, or medical history isn’t profiling in the definitions I’ve seen. (Nor is the Israeli practice since they learned that other races may participate for whatever reason.) What salespersons do varies by store – are they commissioned? is the manager watching? But if they judge by race or clothing they will miss many sales. And dating isn’t a mass judgment so it is not relevant.
    Profiling that opponents object to is using simplistic factors to make judgments over large groups of people: generally race, sometimes gender and age. That is ineffective for this context – as soon as the factors are known terrorist get a free pass by avoiding them. And it leads large sections of the population to lose interest in the cause.
    Growing up in New Zealand and living in Seattle you’re clearly not sensitive to this issue in US history. But it was commonplace for people to be arrested, and convicted of crimes, mostly based on skin color. (And some got the death penalty.) To claim all police have a “sixth sense” is foolhardy – brings to mind Ed Meeses declaration that if the police arrest them they must be guilty. I wonder why the Constitution includes a guarentee of jury trial? Why not just use the 6th Sense? (You ought to do some research on how many convictions have been overturned since DNA testing became routine.) That the US has made so much progress on these issues over the past 50 years is something to be proud of, and not worth giving up for the false security that profiling provides.
    Back to the main point – you’re 3rd choice provides no more security than the other two. Please write an article explaining how you will tell who is Muslim and who isn’t. Don’t forget the largest Muslim country is Indonesia. And there are plenty of Muslims of Chinese descent. Did Richard Reid look Muslim? Females have been used as suicide bombers. So even if you have some foolproof way to tell who is from the Middle East your leaving a nice big hole.
    I’ll venture the real reason we haven’t seen more attacks is because they don’t get these organizations closer to their goal: to set up a caliphate in the Middle East. What it does to US domestic politics doesn’t really matter to them. Sept 11 obviously made huge news, but in upping US support for regimes hostile to fundamentalists (such as Egypt) and pushing the Saudis away, did it really bring that goal closer? I say the answer is no. When some individual shows up willing to take the chance of sneaking on a bomb, those organizations will take the chance. But I think the bulk of their attention and resources will be focused closer to Mecca.
    Of course, once the Iranians get nuclear weapons (which I see as inevitable) other possibilities will open.

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