Saturday, August 06, 2005

Problems with Profiling

London Telegraph on the recent terror bombings in the UK The UK is thinking long and hard about how to stop more terrorist bombings. One of the things they are thinking about is profiling.

While I believe some level of profiling must be done, racial profiling is not what is called for, and it will in fact not make us safer.
It is sensible for the police to concentrate their searches on men under 35, but even then the net needs to be cast widely. Although all of the July 7 bombers were British Muslims, three were Asian, and one was black. Three of the four suspected July 21 bombers were black men who came to Britain as child refugees from the Horn of Africa. Richard Reid, the attempted 2001 shoe-bomber, was of mixed race. A prospective British suicide bomber, therefore - based solely on the incidents that have occurred so far - could well be Asian, black, or of mixed race (a category which, to the casual observer, could easily include almost anyone a couple of shades darker than the averagely translucent Celt). Nor is there anything to rule out the unhappy possibility that, in the future, an Islamist suicide-bomber might spring from the ranks of the many thousands of white British converts to Islam.
We need to understand how to best apply our limited resources. Racial profiling is not the best way to proceed. Some things are good guides. (The elderly don't seem to be involved in suicide bombing.
There was a mild fuss last week when Ian Johnston, the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police, revealed that his officers would not be searching "little old white ladies" for suicide bombs in their stop-and-search procedures. In fact, Mr Johnston might safely have added that they need not bother searching little old brown or black ladies either, or elderly gentlemen of any hue: it is one of the abiding ironies of old age that the less of life one can reasonably expect to enjoy, the more anxious one is to preserve it.
I know the case can be made for completely random searches - with a completely random search, there is no way to get outside the search parameters and sneak through. But for the time being I am convinced that some type of profile (though I don't know what that would be) is better than no profile. (I freely admit that I could be mistaken in this....)

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