November 24, 2010

The political power of profiling

It will be interesting to see if the National Opt Out Day today has some sort of impact on the TSA's use of screening machines and pat downs. It will also be interesting to see how many people opt in to opting out. Once again though, it seems an unpopular decision will be left to the people to bring about an end. There are other interesting aspects of airport screening that haven't been dealt with at length. The discussion about profiling so far it seems, hasn't touched on one important aspect of the implications of profiling. Everyone has heard the argument that profiling is bad. Many people have argued that it is simply logical that a 20 year old Muslim man is much more likely to be a threat than an 86 year old Jamaican woman. It doesn't mean he is guilty, just that he requires more scrutiny. So what's the harm?

Meanwhile the government seems to be acting out of fear. Fear of letting some terror plot succeed on their watch and/or fear of political incorrectness seems to be the driving motivation.  But if people start opting out of the AIT screening machines, the government is in for a big slowdown at the nation's airports.  That spells trouble. It would mean lower approval ratings at least in the short term. And wait until the airlines chime in. They have remained less than vocal over this issue because they are caught in the same predicament as the nation - they don't want anything to happen, but the inconvenience might be insufferable for them. Having flight delays would be a major headache for the airlines as the problem could cascade from one airport to the next.  Running an airline schedule is no easy task. The bigger problem for them is the potential loss of business. Not only would flight delays and cancellations cost revenue, the screenings could dampen travel demand. The industry certainly doesn't need that and they would make their case known.  The administration of course would probably respond by vilifying the airline industries. That's not so productive.

What's to be done? Profiling and selective screening are a good start. Profiling would have greater implications than just solving the airport slowdowns and the public concerns over the privacy issue. But those implications might well turn out to be positive.

On Fox & Friends this morning they were interviewing someone from the TSA (I didn't catch the whole segment) who indicated that Muslim women would be exempt from pat downs on their head coverings. They would be allowed to do a self-pat down and then have their hands tested for explosive residue. That's almost reverse profiling. Why should anyone, for any reason, be entitled to an exemption from the pat down rules? Especially someone who is slightly more likely to be a risk. Either it's done to everybody the same way or a different approach to screening is required. Warranted or not, Muslims should be subject to at least as rigorous a screening as anyone else. The same TSA that is not willing to offend Muslim sensibilities sees no problem with patting down children, surely offending parental sensibilities.

Considering that moderate Muslims seem reticent to speak out against jihadists, wouldn't putting them through the same level of discomfort have the political benefit on getting them to start working alongside everyone else in rooting out terrorism? After all until you change the situation for someone, in this case an inconvenience and a moral issue, they aren't going to act. The resulting action would equate to working against terrorism or more likely, working against the intrusive screenings. Either way it's a win for common sense.

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