Profiling

By Jens F. Laurson; George A. Pieler | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Profiling


Jens F. Laurson; George A. Pieler, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Holiday traffic is exposing lots of glitches in air travel security as infrequent fliers confront the ever-changing rules for carry-on baggage. Despite the United States-European Union agreement on provisional rules for passenger-data exchange, air travel security procedures have been up in the air since the August terror plot aimed at the United States and Britain.

Beverages and gels are out, except for 3-ounce travel sizes. Europe's belated decision to allow musicians to travel with their instruments cost renowned Jazz Messengers trumpeter Valery Ponomarev a broken arm in a tussle with Air India employees in Paris. Most recently, a group of imams were tossed from a US Airways flight due to passenger alarm at their loud praying, praising of Allah and unexplained seat-changing.

These are excellent reasons to step back and consider the obvious: We should look closely at the passengers boarding each flight. That, alas, leads us into the politically incorrect territory of "ethnic profiling."

We shy away from any form of "discrimination," yet to discriminate is value-neutral: We do it every day in our choices of food, friends, jobs.

Government discriminates in deciding what laws and regulations to implement.

Security agencies discriminate, focusing their efforts where the yield is greatest.

When resources are limited, anything less than prudent discrimination brings waste, demoralization, decreased effectiveness and less security. If, even when lives are at stake, we find flying too burdensome without mascara, water bottles, too-big books and instruments, the answer is commonsense discrimination.

We might wish to treat everyone the same but the hard truth is we don't, privately or publicly. And we shouldn't.

For greater flying security, we know to look for Muslim, South Asian/Middle Eastern men. The July 2005 London bombings taught us that the passport matters less than ethnicity -- which is just as well because while passports can be forged, skin color and ethnic features cannot.

It is time we stop pretending that making Al Gore take his shoes off (as happened after Sept. 11) is normal -- or that Gore should have to pretend to happily embrace that "egalitarian spirit." The true message of today's airport security measures is that "We are all terrorists now!

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