TSA Screening and Profiling

Eugene Robinson on what really underlies all the controversy around the TSA’s proposed new screening tactics:

What the critics really mean is not that the TSA should let underwear bombers board planes. What they’re saying is: Don’t search me, and don’t search my grandmother. Just search the potential terrorists.

In other words, they want profiling. That’s a seductive idea, I suppose, if you don’t spend a lot of time worrying about civil liberties. But it couldn’t possibly work. Our terrorist enemies may be evil, but they’re not stupid.

If we only search people who “look like terrorists,” al-Qaeda will send people who don’t fit the profile. It’s no accident that most of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers were from Saudi Arabia; at the time, it was easier for Saudi nationals to get U.S. visas than it was for citizens of other Arab countries. If terrorists are clever enough to hide powerful explosives in ink cartridges, then eventually they’ll find a suicide bomber who looks just like you, me or Granny.

This desire to allow for racial, ethnic, and religious profiling may be seductive, but it should be resisted. Profiling is unjust and a violation of every person’s constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

Also, racial profiling doesn’t work.

Our ideals matter and to throw them out in pursuit of some elusive security would be a mistake. Robinson is right to suggest that some people are seduced by the (false) belief that profiling will make us safer, but it is important to be clear about the fact that profiling will not make us any safer. It will, however, destroy many people’s faith in our country to treat everyone equally and fairly.