In the aftermath of the failed underwear bombing, the Obama administration implemented an ill-advised policy of subjecting passengers from 14 different countries with largely Muslim populations to extra screening in airports. (They threw Cuba in there, as though that would fool anyone.)
At the time, security technologist Bruce Schneier explained that a racial profiling system would be "no more effective than random screening." Just to put a fine point on it, screening passengers from Somalia, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Yemen, or Cuba would not have stopped convicted shoe-bomber Richard Reid, who was of Jamaican descent and traveled to the U.S. on a flight from London.
So while the policy may appear to be practically useless, it's actually worse than that. This "racial profiling lite" would have the effect of alienating Muslims who want to help the United States by treating them as suspicious persons by definition. Fortunately, the administration appears to have decided to end the policy:
Under the new system, screeners will stop passengers for additional security if they match certain pieces of known intelligence. The system will be "much more intel-based," a senior administration official said, "as opposed to blunt force."
"It's much more tailored to what the intelligence is telling us, what the threat is telling us, as opposed to stopping all individuals of a particular nationality or all individuals using a particular passport," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
At the end of the day, the government is looking for an extremely tiny number of people, and it's best to base that search on the intelligence they've collected rather than simply setting the haystack on fire by targeting entire populations.
There will probably be some consternation on the right over abandoning racial profiling lite, and there are at least two reasons for that. One is that a lot of Republicans wanted the non-lite version. Another is that while racial profiling doesn't actually make us safer, it does work as an extrajudicial collective punishment against Muslims as a whole, which is what people who suspect all Muslims are sympathetic to terrorists are looking for in their national security policy.
-- A. Serwer
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