Racial profiling begins
By The Economist | LONDON
AMERICA has firmed up its response to the security failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board a Detroit-bound flight with an explosive device in Amsterdam on Christmas Day and get close to igniting it successfully in his seat.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which governs America’s airport security, said on Sunday that citizens from 14 named countries will face enhanced security measures before they are allowed to fly to the US. If you are from one of the countries that the State Department names as “state sponsors of terrorism” (Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria), or one of ten others deemed to be “of interest” (Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen), then you will be subject to a full-body pat-down and extra scrutiny of your carry-on baggage.
Other passengers flying into America from or via those 14 countries also face the same measures. And the TSA has pledged to step up both random and “threat-based” screening of international arrivals from elsewhere, hinting at greater use of behavioural-based and perhaps other forms of profiling.
So passengers will be discriminated against on racial grounds, and civil-rights advocates are none too impressed. The New York Times quotes Nawar Shora of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee saying, “I understand there needs to be additional security in light of what was attempted on Christmas Day. But this is extreme and very dangerous. All of a sudden people are labeled as being related to terrorism just because of the nation they are from.”
At the same time, Schiphol airport, from which Mr Abdulmutallab’s flight departed, is stepping up its security measures. It will introduce full-body scans for passengers travelling to America. Schiphol’s 15 scanners, which are currently used on a voluntary basis by passengers flying within Europe, will be adjusted so that their images can be analysed by computers rather than people. This should allay the European Commission’s concerns that the sensitive nature of the scanners’ images may infringe passengers’ privacy. And Britain’s prime minister, Gordon Brown, announced at the weekend that full-body scanners would be gradually brought into the country’s airports, with transfer passengers subject to checks as well.
As far as the privacy argument goes, libertarians seem to be pursuing a losing cause. Few ethical qualms stand up to the great god security, and ethical expectations will have to adjust to reflect the new reality. Doubtless our forefathers would have considered the frisking many of us endure at airports an invasion of privacy; now we accept it as a necessary evil.
Tags: Afghanistan, Airport Scanners, airport security, Airports, Algeria, Amsterdam, Christmas, Cuba, Gordon Brown, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Privacy, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, TSA, Yemen
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