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July 28, 2005

Frankly, I'm surprised the NY Times published this Op-Ed on profiling bag searches in the subway. I agree with it and would extend it to airports. I've mumbled things before about the inefficiencies of being politically correct, but if all facts point to one demographic -- young arabs, typically male -- why search grandmas and girl scouts? Ensuring you don't check all the suspicious in the name of politics is poor pratice in my mind.

Posted by charr at 9:15 AM
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Except if you have a policy of not checking grandmas and girl scouts, one of them is going to get a bomb tucked in a purse by a stranger when they're not looking, or will be otherwise enticed to do something unpleasant.Profile-based checks can be exploited if the profile is discovered. Random checks cannot.And that doesn't even go into the social injustice aspect of demographic profiling. There's no need to go there, though, because it's bad for other reasons, which should appeal to people who have a malformed sense of social justice, equality of people, and all that good stuff we learn about in the Bible and the Constitution and other such important documents that we claim to believe in.Predjudice is not just politically incorrect, it's morally incorrect. I don't see how you can get around that.

Posted by Levi at July 28, 2005 1:36 PM

I'm not sure I agree. I think the likelihood of planting a 10 lb bomb on someone is pretty small. The NYPD basically mentioned that they would screen every 5th person. That's not exactly effective. As for the social injustice part, I see it differently -- you deal with the facts. If the facts show a narrow group of people are the only ones causing a problem, you should spend your time on that group. In my mind it's smart vs. warm-and-fuzzy.

Posted by Cameron at July 28, 2005 4:30 PM

I guess the "social injustice" is a subjective term that has been pretty well pressed into society as you describe, and I don't deny that. But if you go a little outside that box, I could just as well argue that it's an injustice to go search my bags when I'm really not a suspect, or at least should be.Do I think things will change? No, but I would be in favor of more directly targetting those who are suspect.

Posted by Cameron at July 29, 2005 8:36 AM

Hmm. You consider Christian and Constitutional morals being 'pretty well pressed' into society to be a /bad/ thing? I thought you were a conservative. And how is it immoral for your bags to be searched and at the same time moral for your innocent Arab friend's bags to be searched? You're both innocent, and the only difference between you is the color of your skin. That's racism, plain and simple.Now, if there is one specific suspect, it's fair to include skin color as an identifying trait /of that one person/, along with other traits. But dealing with statistical data regarding the likelihood of a person of a specific skin color and physique to commit a crime by treating people who falll in that category differently than others is akin to all sorts of things that are easily accepted as wrong.For example, if a statistical study showed that balding men had a tendency to embezzle large amounts of money from their placers of work, would you support a preemptive financial audit of all balding men? I should hope not, even if such an audit would potentially save lots of money.Another example of a lapse of this moral principle in the past was confining Japanese Americans to camps during the war. It carried exactly the same justification, it was just carried a little farther. Do you think that was a good idea, and a morally sound judgement?My point is, there is more to decision making, especially in the social policy arena, than facts and logic. I don't think any of us would like to live in a world that was ruled purely by a philosophy of act utilitarianism, which seems to be what you'd have to use to justify oppressing a minority group.

Posted by Levi at July 29, 2005 9:37 AM

You make some good points. While I don't think my comments have much to do with conservatism or Christianity (although this is part of my libertarian streak), your racism comment got me thinking. I don't consider myself racist by any means. I'm not at all saying stop every Arab male, rather I was saying don't stop the ones who aren't going to be threats. Is there a difference? I think there is, but I see how it could easily be interpreted otherwise and this is where what you were saying comes into play. Do you really think a granny with a knitting kit is going to try to take over a plane? No, but now the tough question: what if it's a couple of 21-yr-old Arab males with knitting kits who seem anxious? That's probably more suspicious. But why is it more suspicious? Given the terrorist events world-wide over the past several years, these guys fit the profile. Do you stop and search them? That's up to the policeman or TSA agent. The fact is that most terrorists fit a pretty tight demographic. So is that unfair to all Arabs or Muslims? I don't think I'd use the word unfair - rather a burden caused by some extremists in their community. That is why it's imperative that Muslims join the fight against terrorism and show the nervous that Islam isn't the problem, it's the extremists. The difference between this and jailing all Japanese Americans during WWII (and I don't know all the details), is that one was just a big generalization without discretion, while the other is done with a lot judgement, thought and care. You can say one can fade into the other, but I think that's an exception. There are a lot of areas where we trust the government is doing what's best.If you remember back in the DC area sniper shootings, the police had reports of a white van, so they started looking for and stopping white vans. Is this a burden for innocent drivers of white vans? Yes, but it was done because evidence pointed that way.

Posted by Cameron at July 29, 2005 5:10 PM

What does a muslim extremist look like? Muslims are in every corner of the planet. Many are Asian. Many are black. Some are Caucasian. And many bombers have been women! I agree with Levi, profiling by race or gender is most unwise. Better to "read" faces and look for nervous types if you're going to profile, and random searches will always keep potential bombers nervous.

Posted by anon at July 31, 2005 8:12 AM

I think it over-simplifies a complex issue to say that profiling is based solely on the color of someone's skin. It's about culture, it's about roots, it's about religious inclinations, it's about the higher statistical rates of terrorist activity among that demographic, it's about where that person comes from. There's no counter-culture among balding men that encourages embezzling money, there's no cultural foundation for such behavior, so your analogy doesn't really hold up. Whereas there is a counter-culture amongst young Arab men that encourages violence and terrorism. It's just a fact, one that we would be stupid to ignore.
Does that mean I think we should follow the example of the Japanese internment in WWII? No, I think we all agree that went too far. But if I see a young Arab man boarding my plane, he's carrying a suspicious package, and he looks a wee bit too nervous, I'm going to suspect him a bit more than I would a little old granny. But that said, I wouldn't be suspicious of him because of the color of his skin, I'd be suspicious because of his behavior and the insight into that behavior provided by what I know of his cultural background. Of course, I'd also be nervous if I saw a white male dressed in too much militaria garb, carrying a similar package and looking just as nervous. Why? Because of folks like the Unabomber, Charles Manson, and the like. That doesn't mean I think we should lock up every white boy who wears camoflauge too much, I'm just going to keep my eye on them and be cautious. My concern over terrorism and preventing it isn't linked solely to someone having dark skin, it's about cultural backgrounds and history.

Posted by Heather at July 31, 2005 4:02 PM

Heather: I know there is no real relationship between balding men and a propensity to embezzle, but I was positing a hypothetical one (imagine an underground network of balding men, the Balding Men Power organization, who coordinate their efforts to embezzle from big corporations) to try to put Cameron in the place of the young Arab men who are being eyed suspiciously everywhere, being watched by profilers, and generally treated with mistrust and apprehension. I don't imagine it's a pleasant thing for them.I won't say that security personnel should ignore evidence they find, or let someone genuinely suspicious pass due to a policy of only allowing random searches. I will say that codified racial profiling is morally wrong, though, and that it is provably flawed when compared with random searches. Either reason, and especially the second, is sufficient to rule out an official policy of racial profiling. Implementing a security policy that makes you less safe is not good practice!

Posted by Levi at August 1, 2005 2:20 AM

Levi and anon,
I think you're both taking a different and more extreme view than I am. Heather's comments pretty much express how I feel. I would say race is often a component due to the plain facts (not hypotheticaly situations), but I certainly don't think all young Arabs are guilty of anything. Nor am I targeting Mulims as a universally guilty community. You can't however deny that the vast majority of suicide bombings have been Southern Asian Muslims. Therefore, if you saw them AND they were acting suspiciously, I would see them as more suspect. That said, anyone else who is acting sufficiently suspicious should be searched. As you may have caught from the article, the police were gong to search every 5th passenger; what kind of security is that? I would just as soon not screen anyone unless they crossed some "suspicion threshold."And hey, I succeeded in controversy -- back to my old self I guess ;)

Posted by Cameron at August 1, 2005 3:07 PM

Just because you have a wrongheaded security mechanism doesn't mean you should switch to a different wrongheaded one. The only non-wrongheaded search pattern is random.

Posted by Levi at August 2, 2005 8:57 AM

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