Tuesday, May 15, 2012

In favor of profiling

Computer security author Bruce Schneier writes:
The Trouble with Airport Profiling
Why do otherwise rational people think it's a good idea to profile people at airports? Recently, neuroscientist and best-selling author Sam Harris related a story of an elderly couple being given the twice-over by the TSA, pointed out how these two were obviously not a threat, and recommended that the TSA focus on the actual threat: "Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim."
This is a bad idea. It doesn’t make us any safer -- and it actually puts us all at risk. ...

Underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab was Nigerian. Shoe bomber Richard Reid was British with a Jamaican father. One of the London subway bombers, Germaine Lindsay, was Afro-Caribbean. Dirty bomb suspect Jose Padilla was Hispanic-American.
His arguments fail. Unless all passengers are equally risky, then it will not be optimal to treat all passengers equally.

Yes, terrorist can take countermeasures as a result of security policies. They might train old ladies to become suicide bombers. So TSA has to search Henry Kissinger. But any policy that induces terrorist to work hard will make us all safer.

Schneier argues that profiling Muslims may offend Muslims. Maybe so. It is more offensive to search people in excess of their risk, just to avoid offending Muslims.

Linday changed his name to Abdullah Shaheed Jamal, as a Muslim convert. How is he an argument against profiling?

Schneier's arguments do not say that avoiding profiling makes us less secure. He just argues that it is not as effective as you might guess. So what drives anti-profiling opinions?

I believe that there are two arguments against profiling. First, a leftist-egalitarian belief that if any group is subjected to suspicion, then fairness requires that all groups should be subjected to the same suspicion. Second, that terrorism threats present an opportunity to deprive all citizens of basic civil liberties.

Maybe the TSA is a necessary evil. But it is not necessary or desirable to treat non-suspicious folks the same as those matching the profile of a Muslim terrorist.

Update: Schneier posted his email debate with Harris. The only argument for profiling he concedes is efficiency, as Harris points out that terrorism is correlated with Moslems. But Schneier doesn't believe that TSA does much good anyway.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

how far will you go to remain safe?---will you give up your democracy and liberty for safety?---or are you willing to put your life on the line for liberty and democracy? Are you willing to get on a plane that has no profiling?

You have to choose---are you willing to live in a cage or will you wake up and tackle the "problem" by choosing to change U.S. foreign policy?