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Airline Mismanagement

Refusing to profile passengers requires one to suspend one's common sense and street sense.

We all know that all attacks on US airplanes to date have been by young Muslim male foreigners.

So why subject frequent business travelers, harmless grandmothers, and young children to the same degree of scrutiny?

 
 
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Profiling - Why is it Commonplace and Accepted Everywhere but in Security?

Which is more Un-American :  Groping innocent women and children, or 'profiling' passengers

Perhaps not all terrorists determined to attack the US are young Muslim males, although the vast preponderance surely are.

But self imposed political correctness means we have to pretend that Southern Baptist grandparents are as dangerous as single Muslim males from Yemen.

Part 2 of a series on airport security - links to other articles at the bottom.

 

 

Perhaps the worst part of the latest nasty 'enhancements' to 'airport security' is the knowledge that our resources are being misdirected towards terrorizing absolutely normal Americans, for fear of being seen to be 'profiling'.

But profiling means we can focus effectively on the people who most likely wish to do us harm.

Profiling is a normal and accepted part of most of our lives, because it works.  And it can benefit us both ways - simultaneously identifying the most 'at risk' travelers for enhanced screening, and also identifying the safest travelers who could avoid most screening altogether.

Why should our safety - and convenience - be sacrificed on a baseless politically correct altar of anti-profiling prejudice?

Everyone Profiles, All the Time, Everywhere Else

Profiling is an accepted and essential part of the interactions we have in most of our daily lives - it is so common as to be second nature, and we seldom even think about it, whether we are the profiler or the profilee.

Here are five examples of profiling throughout of our everyday lives - you can probably think of another five, or even 55, similar examples to add to these :

Pre-Approved Credit Cards

Have you ever received a 'pre-approved' credit card offer in the mail?  Guess what - you were profiled and selected to be sent that offer.

The profiling may have even been as sophisticated as to advise you of a pre-approved credit limit, and will have also been involved in some 'behind the scenes' machinations such as determining what interest rate and annual fee you'll be offered.

There's no law that says credit card companies have to randomly send offers to everyone.  There's no law that says they have to balance offers sent to people with 'A+' credit ratings and high incomes/net worth, with a similar number of identical offers to recent bankrupts, unemployeds, and other people with bad credit, no income and no net worth.

No-one has ever suggested that, and to do so would be ridiculous.

Shop Assistant Help

Have you ever had a salesman approach you in a store and offer to help you with your shopping needs?  Guess what - you've again been profiled.

The salesman looked around and judged you to be the most likely person to buy something from him, and so selectively approached you rather than any of the other people around.

This decision to approach you or not was made depending on who you are, how you dress and present yourself, the type of store you are in, what you were looking at, and - yes - the personal preferences of the salesman.

But no-one is saying that shop assistants need to make quotas for equally approaching non-target audience members as well as prime potential customers.  This too would be ridiculous.

Fundraisers

If you've ever received a fundraising letter or email, guess what - you've again been profiled.

Not only have you been selected as someone likely to support whatever the cause is, but the profiling may have also automatically generated the suggested levels of contribution.  Wealthy and generous givers receive higher suggested levels of contribution than less wealthy and less generous givers.

But does anyone suggest that Democrats have to equally contact Republicans as well as people identified as favoring Democrat politics when asking for money?  Again, of course not.

At the Doctor's Office

You visit the doctor to report an ache or pain somewhere and to ask for a cure.

The doctor or nurse may ask you a bunch of questions about your lifestyle, your past activities, and even about the health of other family members, prior to settling on a possible diagnosis or at least an initial line of testing.

Guess what they have just done?  They've just profiled you, determining what aspects of your life and your inherited characteristics/attributes may be impacting on your health at present, and using this information to form a selective view of what the problem might be.

Are doctors told that they must treat all patients the same?  Everyone with a headache should be given the same treatment?  Of course not.

Dating

If you're dating online, what do you do?  You fill in search parameters, and then look at the resulting profiles, which you read through and then select who to contact.

If you're in a bar or nightclub, you're still profiling, but in a different sense - you're looking at people's behavior, clothing, appearance, and such like.

But, whether the process is scientific and deliberative (online) or more irrational and impulsive (in the bar with beer goggles on!) the fact remains that you are profiling and selecting who you will approach.

Should we be required to randomly approach people who we have no interest in, as well as people we like?  Should we date in equal numbers people twice our age and people half our age?

Again, of course not.

Why Should Public Safety be Different?

So, if all these other parts of our lives allow for unregulated and uncontrolled profiling - ranging from annoyances such as fundraising requests through to beneficial things such as help in stores and possibly credit card offers and on to possibly life saving things like health care choices, why is it that airline security (and public safety in general) should be massively handicapped by not being allowed to use profiling?

What is the unique circumstance that forces law enforcement agencies to adopt a dysfunctional type of political correctness in their activities on behalf of us and our safety?  Why do none of the other types of profiling also attract similar ridiculous constraints - why are they universally accepted without complaint?

Some people will say that the police used to abuse profiling by choosing to selectively stop, eg, black youths who they see driving expensive cars, believing them either to have stolen the car or to be engaged in some illegal activity allowing them to afford the car, while at the same time, allowing middle aged white couples, driving the same type of car, to pass by without stopping them.

These people (who are almost never middle aged white Cadillac owning couples) insist the police pretend that middle aged white couples are as likely to have stolen a Cadillac or to have paid for it from the proceeds of drug-running or pimping as are teenage members of a black street gang.

Not Profiling Handicaps Police Effectiveness

To the eternal discredit of our police forces, they have accepted such nonsense and many now require their police to be careful to stop people in careful proportion to their presence in the population as a whole, rather than in relation to the likelihood of their being offenders.

The criminals are laughing at the police, and at us, as they drive safely past a police cruiser that has just stopped you and me, and so is unable or unwilling to now pay attention to the bad guys.

Or, to put it another way, next time you are asked to approve a tax increase for more police, why not instead insist that your local community allow the current police to work more efficiently, and to focus on crime prevention and detection where it happens, rather than aimlessly squander resources in areas of relatively less crime risk.

Okay, so at least that element of politically correct feel-good nonsense isn't risking our lives too much.  It mainly means a few more criminals get to stay free, and a few more ordinary citizens get tickets for exceeding a too-low speed limit by an insignificant margin.

But what about at airports?  We're not just talking street hoods here, we're talking about terrorists trying to blow up planes, trying to kill passengers, and most importantly, trying to create incidents that will have ripple effects all the way through our economy.

Surely our right to be safe eclipses the alleged right of minority groups to be treated identically to other demographic sectors (except, of course, for when they are seeking special status).

The biggest loss/cost of a plane being blown up isn't the cost of the plane, and neither is it the deaths of the people in the plane.  It is the harm done to the nation's economy as a whole by the sudden contraction in travel caused by the event.

A failure to detect and prevent an airplane related act of terrorism stands to cost us not just lost lives, but billions of dollars of economic activity, thousands of jobs lost, and so on.  Airplane security is important, and we can't afford to 'pull any punches'.  We need to be 100% hard-on at doing the best we can to keep our air services safe.

Using Your Sixth Sense

Police are taught to listen to their instincts and their 'sixth sense'.  If something feels wrong, it probably is wrong, and sometimes police will simply sense something 'wrong' or suspicious about a person or the circumstance they are in.

But now, police have to then modify their instinct and sixth sense, and stop and ask themselves 'If I stop this person, might I be accused of racially stereotyping and profiling?'.

Being as how a disproportionate number of the criminals in this country are members of minorities, the answer to that unnecessary question is invariably yes, with the result being more criminals are overlooked by police because they are members of 'high risk' groups of criminals - quite the opposite outcome to that which we surely wish.

Seeing No Evil

Do we have to close our eyes to things that are self evident and obvious and to pretend they do not exist?  Do we have to make bad decisions in the name of some perverse definition of fairness - and since when does it become fair to you and me that our security (as well as our comfort and convenience) is being sacrificed so as to make Muslim visitors feel better?

The unavoidable truth of the matter is that nearly 100% of all actual and attempted acts of terrorism in the US over the last some years have been perpetrated by young Muslim males - non-Americans in the case of air terrorism, and sadly some US citizen/Muslim converts in the case of other acts of terrorism.  Should we as non-Muslims (and perhaps as non-young and perhaps as non-male) now be ranked as equally dangerous?

Of course, one has to feel sympathy at a person being prejudged as being more/less likely to have a certain attribute based on the observed tendency of a group of people to which that person belongs having an overall significant increase in that attribute being present.

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.

But until we can know whether each Muslim is in the 10% or the 90%, what should we do?  The incontrovertible fact is the chances of a random Muslim being a terrorist are a thousand or a million times greater than the chances of a random Christian or Buddhist or atheist being a terrorist.

Doesn't that mean - if all other things are equal (this is a huge 'if' clause that will be discussed in the next part of this series) - we should focus the huge bulk of our scrutiny on Muslims?

And, being more selective still (or, if you prefer, profiling some more), shouldn't we screen single young Muslim males more closely than aged Muslim women?

And, being even more selective (or profiling even more) if the single Muslim male is from Yemen, doesn't that mean he should immediately win the 'jackpot' of highest level scrutiny?

As for the 'injustice' this would foist on innocent young Muslim males traveling to and within the US, if that really offends them, they should do something to control the incubators of terrorism in their country, rather than demand we bare ourselves in front of them and pretend the reality of the threat from their country does not exist.

Wasting Our Security Resource

Refusing to profile, and pretending that you and I are as much a risk as young male Muslims wastes scarce security resources, causing them to be spent scrutinizing we who don't need scrutiny, while constraining them from concentrating on those people who most need scrutiny.

So let's think about what that means.  Let's say you are in charge of airport security and told that you must ensure that flights are safe.  But you are also told you only have sufficient resource to either thoroughly screen one quarter of all passengers going through the airport, or unsatisfactorily screen all passengers.  You are given essentially three choices :

  • Give all people an equal level of screening, which while intrusive and resource intensive, is unfortunately going to be inadequate and which won't detect a skilled determined terrorist intent on smuggling a bomb through security

  • Give perhaps 10% of all passengers a thorough complete screen, and let the other 90% go through security with nothing other than a quick walk through a metal detector and carry-on items through an X-ray machine - and choose the 10% of passengers at random

  • Give perhaps 10% of all passengers a thorough complete screen, and let the other 90% go through security with nothing other than a quick walk through a metal detector and carry-on items through an X-ray machine - but choose the 10% of passengers as being primarily young males of probable Muslim persuasion and not born in the US

Which process will give you the best security?  Which process will inconvenience and upset the least number of ordinary honest citizens?

Everyone with half a brain will choose the third option.  Alas, the TSA has chosen a compromise of the first two options, while spurning the third option completely.

Now, let's look at the positive flipside to profiling which is seldom considered.

Profiling's Positive Flipside

Most people, when they think of profiling, overlook the other sort of profiling.  Profiling can be used not only to identify higher risk people, but also to identify lower risk people.

Think back to the airport security scenario above.  You need to decide which 10% of all people going through the airport get an intensive screen.  Okay, so perhaps you say 'Muslim males get intense screening' - but that maybe only represents 2% or 5% or something of all passengers.  Who else do you give intense screening to?

Now - think laterally.  Don't think who else you screen, but think instead about who you can exempt from screening.  Maybe you can exempt middle aged second or subsequent generation American women with young children at home and not traveling with them - they are far removed from the profile of a typical suicide bomber (do you know any middle class middle aged mother who would kill herself for some vague ideology and orphan her dependent young children in the process?).

Maybe you can exempt businessmen who have been elite frequent fliers for five or more years in a row - they might hate the airlines, but they are probably not terrorists, either.

To put it another way, if you decide you will exempt a lucky 10% of passengers from screening, who do you choose?  Do you randomly take one out of every ten passengers waiting in the line and send them straight through?  Or do you use profiling and prior screening processes to find the people least likely to be terrorists and wave them on through?

Maybe this is an acceptable compromise - although surely we should not have to compromise on our security at all.  But if there is a need to so compromise, rather than pretending everyone is equal, and rather than accepting one half of the reality - some people are greater threats than others; we could instead action the other side of this coin - some people are lesser threats than others.

Nexus

Maybe you can even create a special type of fast lane for citizens who have been prescreened and pre-rated as being low risk.

Impossible?  Not at all - look at the Canadian and Mexican borders, both of which have fast lane 'Nexus' programs allowing citizens who have been given a prescreening and a security interview to avoid the regular lanes and regular screening and to drive pretty much straight across the border with no questions asked (I have a Nexus card myself that gives me wonderfully easy access in to Canada and then the same wonderfully easy return back into the US).

Maybe you end up with various categories of positive profiles that allow you to exempt 30% of all passengers from the need for screening.

Okay, so perhaps a very clever terrorist manages to get into this 30% category, and succeeds in smuggling a bomb onto a plane and blowing it and himself up.  But what is the alternative?  If you have no profiling, you end up with no-one getting thorough screening, and any/all terrorists able to smuggle bombs 'internally' onto a plane.

Profiling - Makes it Easier for Ordinary People and Harder for Terrorists

With a mix of positive and negative profiling, you've shifted the odds much more in favor of safety, and at the same time you've massively reduced the inconvenience to ordinary law abiding travelers.

Ordinary 'safe' passengers find air travel more convenient once more, and the TSA can be free to concentrate its scrutiny and its X-rays only on the people more likely deserving of their focus.

Profiling is an inseparable part of every other part of our normal lives.  We should welcome its presence to this most important part of protecting the security of ourselves, our aviation system, and our nation's economic health and safety.

This is part of a series on alternatives to present airport security.  Please also see :

1.  Israeli style airport security
2.  Profiling passengers
3.  The Limitations of the TSA
4.  Protecting Airports
5.  General counter-terrorism measures
6.  Sundry other ideas (coming soon)

 

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Originally published 17 December 2010, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
 
 

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