The TSA’s new airport security protocols, in which folks are either subjected to high-tech x-ray screening or patdowns, have ruffled a lot of feathers from people who have become rather convenient civil libertarians. I caught Dave Barry, the humorist, on NPR the other day joking about an embarrassing search as he waited to board a plane, and he said the TSA was stopping old ladies instead of being more sensible in targeting who to search. He may not have come out and said “profiling passengers,” but that’s certainly what he was implying.
As it is with most things, Charles Krauthammer has no such qualms voicing those ugly thoughts.
We pretend that we go through this nonsense as a small price paid to ensure the safety of air travel. Rubbish. This has nothing to do with safety – 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling – when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches.
But Adam points out that for all the implicit and explicit calls for racial profiling, it’s pretty obviously clear that it doesn’t work.
Racial profiling is no more statistically accurate than those random searches conservatives always complain about. Thousands of Muslims travel on airplanes every day, and an infinitesimal number actually turn out to be dangerous. But the argument here is pretty clear — the problem isn’t that the violation of privacy isn’t worth an unknown gain in security. It’s that the TSA should be frisking “Nigerian nutjobs” instead of grandma. Conservatives like Krauthammer aren’t angry that the TSA is infringing on individual liberty, just that it’s infringing on their individual liberty. [emphasis mine.]
It should be pointed out that for plenty of people of color in the nation’s inner cities, these kind of uncomfortable, vaguely legal searches — with the stated intent of finding people carrying guns and drugs — are essentially de rigueur. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are going about their days, who are patted down because they match some vague description of some suspect. In one four-block section of Brownsville, Brooklyn, the NYPD made 52,000 stops over a four-year period, which averaged out to about one stop for every resident in the area each year. And it’s no more efficient than the profiling Adam decries: for all that scrutiny and all those stops over four years, the police in Brownsville recovered just 25 guns, and less than 1 percent of all those people who were stopped — and questioned and patted down and humiliated as they went about their lives — were ever arrested. (All of the personal info taken during the stops, however, was entered into a citywide database.)