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Point: the case for profiling.

On September 11, 2001 ("9/11"), over 3,000 lives were lost in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Somerset County, Pennsylvania, due, in part, to ineffective airport security. Since that horrific day, air travel has become increasingly unpleasant without necessarily being safer. Profiling, based on both the behavior and appearance of airline passengers, provides a vital tool that effectively and efficiently increases airport security. Before 9/11, racial profiling was a term that most often referred to a "law enforcement practice of taking the race of a potential suspect into account in deciding whether to initiate investigation of that suspect." (1) Before the tragic events of that day, eighty percent of Americans opposed racial profiling. (2) Today, sixty percent of Americans believe in the necessity of some form of profiling to ensure public safety and national security. (3) The threat of terrorism on American soil perpetrated by fanatic Muslim extremists makes profiling necessary for the security of the United States. Clearly, the U.S. is now engaged in a war against terrorism. Historically, in times of national emergencies, profiling becomes a weapon to combat and monitor America's enemies. Now, more than ever, every weapon available must be utilized to combat terrorists who do not value their own lives or the lives of innocent noncombatants.

Throughout its history, the United States has employed some form of profiling to restrict the activities of its enemies. During World War I, the Sedition Act of 19l8--an amendment to the Espionage Act enacted a year earlier to outlaw spying and subversive activities by foreign enemies--required "enemy aliens" to register in each state. Pursuant to the Enemy Alien Act of 1798, an enemy alien (or alien enemy) was defined as a person above the age of fourteen, born in a country at war with America, then residing in the United States but not a naturalized citizen? During World War II, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Korematsu v. United States (1944), affirmed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the creation of military areas from which individuals might be excluded to prevent espionage or sabotage. In the opinion of Associate Justice Hugo Black:
 All legal restrictions, which curtail the civil rights of a single
 racial group, are immediately suspected. That is not to say that
 such restrictions are unconstitutional.... To cast this case into
 outlines of racial prejudice, without reference to the real military
 dangers which were present, merely confuses the issue?

These restrictions on the civil rights of German-Americans and Japanese-Americans, respectively, were defensive measures based on wartime exigencies, not national origin or race. Today, while the United States is not at war with any particular Arab nation, the majority of terrorists come from Arab countries, are between the ages of seventeen and forty, and they are Muslim extremists.

The greatest barrier to profiling is the fear that Americans have of offending anyone. To appease civil liberties groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, airport security officials have foregone profiling in favor of random inspections. This system is impractical, frustrating, and ineffective. Random selection allows a young Arabic-looking man to walk through security while a ninety-year-old great-great-grandmother from Arizona is virtually strip-searched. Good manners and respect for everyone will not provide protection against terrorism.

Evidence suggests that the events of 9/11 could have been avoided had the Federal Bureau of Investigation been allowed to continue its line of scientific profiling that led to the arrest of the so-called "twentieth hijacker," Zacarias Moussaoui, a month before 9/11. (6) The science of profiling was developed from the processes of narrowing a list of suspects by identifying areas of interaction of numerous generalizations belonging to all suspects. Profiling, which relies solely on race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin in selecting which individuals to subject to routine or spontaneous investigatory activities, is inappropriate. Probable cause to target a specific individual is different than profiling based on race. Scientific profiling utilizes mathematical probabilities without relying on race as a major factor in the analysis. (7)

Many agencies and businesses use some form of profiling for a variety of reasons. Airlines which operate in the United States rely on CAPPS II (Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening, Second Generation), a database system that gathers information gleaned from airline artificial intelligence and other powerful software to analyze passengers' travel reservations, housing information, family ties, credit report information, and other personal data. The CAPPS II system is used to determine whether a passenger is a selectee or non-selectee for heightened security checks. The Federal Aviation Administration insists that, while CAPPS II does not target any group based on race, national origin, or religion, it will be able to greatly reduce the possibility of hijacking. (8) Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta describes CAPPS II as "the foundation on which all other far more public security measures really depend." (9)

Thus far, one could argue that profiling based on suspicious behavior, not race, has proven to be a more effective method than technology in combating terrorism. Suspicious behavior formed the basis for detaining Ahmed Ressam, an al Qaeda operative, on December 14, 1999, at the U.S.-Canadian border. One hundred pounds of explosives found hidden in Ressam's car was destined to blow up Los Angeles International Airport. Ressam's odd itinerary, nervousness, and uncooperative behavior aroused the suspicions of a U.S. Customs agent. (10) The arrest of Jose Padilla in June 2002 also resulted from profiling. Padilla, an American citizen from Chicago, changed his name to Abdullah Al Amuhajir after joining al Qaeda. He allegedly participated in a plot to detonate a "dirty bomb." (11) Richard Reid, the "shoe-bomber" who tried to blow up an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001, carried a British passport issued just two weeks before the incident. Reid was traveling alone without any checked luggage. (12)

Since it is possible for an Arabic-looking terrorist to disguise his looks or to recruit someone who does not fit the profile, behavior, combined with ethnicity, offers a better determinant as to whether someone is a threat. Airport security agents should look for signs such as a passenger who is carrying a new passport, has very little luggage, buys a one-way ticket, and pays cash for that ticket. Screening every person entering the airport causes delays. By targeting high-risk persons, airport security officials increase the odds of stopping a potential hijacker.

To be sure, profiling, if abused, can be harmful, but it is necessary. Profiling works in terrorism cases, and it effectively relieves some of the public's fear of terrorist attacks. Profiling, when used correctly, is an effective law-enforcement tool and deterrent against further violence. It provides a means of tracking the whereabouts and activities of suspects and can lead to the capture of terrorist plotters before they have committed their acts of violence.


(1) Sherry F. Colb, "The New Face of Racial Profiling: How Terrorism Affects the Debate," FindLaw, October 10, 2001, 20011010.html (accessed June 28, 2004), 1.

(2) Nicole Davis, "The Slippery Slope of Racial Profiling," ColorLines, December 5, 2001, Lines/CLArchive/story2001 12 05.html (accessed June 28, 2004), 1.

(3) Robert A. Levy, "Profiling Proposal: A Rational and Moral Framework," National Review Online, October 5, 2001, commentlevy100501.shtml (accessed June 28, 2004), 1.

(4) 50 U.S.C. [subsection] 21-24 (1994). Paul L. Murphy, World War I and the Origin of Civil Liberties in the United States (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1979) provides the best study concerning government restrictions on constitutional rights during World War I.

(5) 323 U.S. 214; 65 S.Ct. 193; 89 L. Ed. 194 (1944).

(6) Philip Shenon, "Threats and Responses: The 9/11 Defendant; Early Warnings on Moussaoui Are Detailed," New York Times, October 18, 2002, A13; Guy Taylor, "FBI finds no evidence of Moussaoui e-mails," Washington Times, September 5, 2002, A5.

(7) Frederick Schauer, Profiles, Probabilities, and Sterotypes (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2003), 155-74.

(8) Robert O'Harrow, Jr., "Air Security Focusing on Flier Screening, Washington Post, September 4, 2002, A1.

(9) Ibid.

(10) Heather MacDonald, "Will Curbs on Profiling Open a Pandora's Box?" The (Bergen County, NJ) Record, May 8, 2002, A5.

(11) William Smith, "Terrorist Profiling is not Racial Profiling," USA Today, June 18, 2002, A14.

(12) ABC News, "Al-Qaeda Link: Sources say Shoe Bomb Suspect and '20th Hijacker' had Contact," December 26, 2001, airlaneexplosives011226.html (accessed July 28, 2004), 1-3; ABC News, "No Bail: Shoe Bomb Suspect Stays Behind Bars," December 28, 2001, us/DailyNews/airplane explosives011228html (accessed July 28, 2004), 1-3.
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Author:Reddick, Sharon R.
Publication:International Social Science Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2004
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