The Case for Profiling
Passenger Profiling Can Prevent Terrorism
While behavior pattern recognition hasn't yet stopped any terrorists, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting that it can. Officers using behavior pattern recognition techniques at major U.S. airports have successfully stopped people with fake identification, and others wanted for drug possession or other crimes. The threat of terrorism warrants adding these techniques to existing baggage screening technology.
Passenger Profiling is a Race-Neutral Technique
Behavior pattern recognition is a race-neutral profiling technique in which screeners look for how people act, rather than the shade of their skin. In fact, profilers are prohibited from relying on race or other discriminatory factors to identify potential terrorists. A program analyst for the Transportation Security Administration called SPOT an "antidote to racial profiling....If you look for a certain race or ethnicity, you're making a big mistake."
As for screening technologies that make use of electronic databases, our elected officials and others can pressure the government to notify the public that private information is being used, and adhere to other requirements. In fact, requiring the government to use technologies and techniques in an ethical way would be a great way to move beyond the well-debated conflict between liberty and security. The government can provide Americans with both by appropriately using profiling technology and methods.
The Case against Profiling
Passenger Profiling Doesn't Prevent Terrorism
Terrorists may go undetected by behavior pattern recognition profiling, despite the technique's success in capturing other criminals. Terrorists may be trained for long periods in how to control suspicious behaviors. And there are no existing profile templates for how terrorists behave, so it would be difficult to come up with a profile that predicts their specific ways of behaving.
Profiling Can Amount to an Ethnic Witch Hunt
There is such a high likelihood that profiling will turn into an ethnic witch hunt that it is not worth risking its use. The British implementation of similar profiling in August 2006 immediately provoked a Muslim police officer to call it"an extreme form of stereotyping." Such a move by American authorities is likely to provoke similarly justified outrage, and in the process damage the United States' already troubled relationship with Islamic communities, both domestically and abroad.
Profiling Technologies Violate Passengers' Privacy Rights
Northwest Airlines' release of private citizens' information to NASA in 2001-2002 suggests that neither the public nor private sector is interested in preserving Americans' right to privacy. The availability of technology that encourages the coordination and use of even more personal information will make it increasingly difficult to enforce civil liberties, and although violations of rights may be discovered after the fact, the damage will already have been done.
Stopping terrorists before they strike is key to protecting Americans' security. But protecting the country also means aiming to protect its ideals. At the least, it would be ironic if the quest to protect the ideals of American freedom cost Americans their civil liberties.