Airport Profiling Should Be Conducted by Trained and Trusted Profilers

The plan by Department of Homeland Security’s, Transportation Security Administration to begin the behavioral profiling of passengers in as many as 60 of our largest airports, may provide that opportunity. Profiling, the art of identifying individuals for heightened scrutiny in this case, has been used successfully by Israel to identify passengers deemed to be a threat to their commercial aviation system. But profiling in the United States for the same purpose has raised the ire of the ACLU and other organizations concerned that it would unfairly single out minorities, particularly those most closely identified by race, ethnicity, religion and gender with the terrorists involved in 9/11 and other terrorist events around the world.

Plan to Profile Air Travelers
Because up to now no satisfactory method of profiling airline passengers that would not be largely based on immutable characteristics has been suggested, we are currently relying upon an essentially random selection system to identify passengers for additional screening at and beyond airport screening stations. The current system has also been criticized as being far too unreliable to identify real threats to commercial aviation and has often resulted in the heightened screening of small children and senior citizens who are not likely subjects for additional searching. TSA has identified a program to conduct “behavioral” screening of passengers whose responses to questions designed to elicit information about backgrounds, attitudes, travel plans and other personal data will be evaluated by specially trained screening personnel. The future success of this program will depend upon who is selected for profiling, the questions asked, and by whom the screening and analysis will be done. Obviously, if the selectees appear to be chosen only for their immutable characteristics: race, ethnicity, nationality etc., and the manner in which they are handled is deemed inappropriate, this initiative is likely to be rejected in similar fashion to earlier attempts to employ CAPPS, computer assisted passenger pre-screening systems. To avoid such a result, a careful balance will need to be drawn between the passenger characteristics used for choosing passengers to be profiled and the need to avoid impermissible and illegal stereotyping and discrimination.

Why people react as they do to being selected for additional questioning and why certain people are selected for such questioning raises complex issues that have been the subject of intensive studies by psychologists for decades. Because of the justifiable sensitivity that has resulted from the abuse of members of society by authority figures who have focused on them as a result of harmful stereotyping centered on race and ethnicity, any profiling system in which such characteristics will play a role will be subjected to high scrutiny both by government and in the court of public opinion. Stereotyping can be both beneficial and harmful depending on the characteristics selected and how it is used. This new TSA initiative will be required to pass strict tests to ensure that its benefits are great and its harm, if any, minimal.

Why Not Employ Returning Veterans as Profilers?
Because of the special sensitivity needed to carryout such a program with the least possible intrusion on the public’s need for privacy, the profilers must bring to the job the requisite sensitivity to both protect those needs and still competently assess the aviation security risks that must be determined We are fortunate in having available the experience and skills of hundreds, if not thousands of trained and dedicated men and women who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan where they have both fought terrorism and worked with the indigenous victims of terrorism to re-build their communities. These young soldiers have already proven their ability to reject negative stereotyping by their many acts of compassion and aid to men, women and children who may share immutable characteristics with an enemy that has killed and wounded their comrades in arms but are nevertheless treated with respect and dignity.

Offering employment to these returning veterans as airport profilers is not only a wise use of a trained and vetted group of our most deserving Americans, it will also serve the public interest by providing a reliable and proven force most likely to succeed in the delicate task of profiling air travelers in an effective and appropriate manner. Finally, what better demonstration of the nation’s appreciation for their service can be offered these young men and women than to employ them at home, particularly those injured in the service of their country, in tasks that will allow them to continue their dedication to the war on terrorism while they support themselves and their loved ones?

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