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Britain to Profile Airline Passengers?

The Times Online reports that the British government is considering a new airline security process that could mean additional security checks for Muslims:

The Government is discussing with airport operators plans to introduce a screening system that allows security staff to focus on those passengers who pose the greatest risk.

The passenger-profiling technique involves selecting people who are behaving suspiciously, have an unusual travel pattern or, most controversially, have a certain ethnic or religious background.

The system would be much more sophisticated than simply picking out young men of Asian appearance. But it would cause outrage in the Muslim community because its members would be far more likely to be selected for extra checks.

Officials at the Department for Transport (DfT) have discussed the practicalities of introducing such a system with airport operators, including BAA. They believe that it would be more effective at identifying potential terrorists than the existing random searches.


The DfT has been considering passenger profiling for a year but, until last week, the disadvantages were thought to outweigh the advantages. A senior aviation industry source said: "The DfT is ultra-sensitive about this and won't say anything publicly because of political concerns about being accused of racial stereotyping."

Three days before last week's arrests, the highest-ranking Muslim police officer in Britain gave warning that profiling techniques based on physical appearance were already causing anger and mistrust among young Muslims. Tarique Ghaffur, an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said: "We must think long and hard about the causal factors of anger and resentment.

"There is a very real danger that the counter-terrorism label is also being used by other law-enforcement agencies to the effect that there is a real risk of criminalising minority communities."

Sir Rod Eddington, former chief executive of British Airways, criticised the random nature of security searches. He said that it was irrational to subject a 75-year-old grandmother to the same checks as a 25-year-old man who had just paid for his ticket with cash.

I would love to see not only Britain implement an airline security plan like this, but America too. The random security checks that take place now may make the government look like it's being fair but they do nothing to stop terrorists.

But will Britain actually implement this program? The Brits have a history of appeasing their very large Muslim community, which will surely go apoplectic at the concept of being profiled. The Muslim leaders will protest and warn British leaders that this program will create more terrorists instead of fight terrorists, thus attempting to blackmail the government into continuing its appeasement.

Dan Riehl makes a great point:

It appears Britain is talking about implementing such a screening technique. It's about time. If moderate Muslims won't stand up more forcefully against their more radical and dangerous counterparts, then let them feel some heat.

Sane Muslims can have a far greater impact in combating Islamo-fascists than any other particular group. To date, they absolutely have not done their part. It's time to start giving them incentive, along with sending them the message that we will not ignore the source of much of the worlds terrorism.

Update: Mary Katharine has the best line in response to Britain's realization that it would probably be a good idea to try to identify people who pose a threat.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Britain to Profile Airline Passengers?:

» Flopping Aces linked with Some Common Sense Coming To London

» La Shawn Barber's Corner linked with Let the Ethnic/Religious Profiling Begin!

Comments (5)

About time someone adopted ... (Below threshold)

About time someone adopted this entirely sensible and reasonable plan.

[And to those who perpetually crow, "But al-Qaeda will just start recruiting blondes to defeat profiling," I simply point out that "recruiting blondes" into your Muslim terror cell is an excellent way to wind up with a few MI5 operatives in your terror cell. Ooooooooooops.]


AQ won't "begin recruiting ... (Below threshold)

AQ won't "begin recruiting blondes". They've already done that, at least in recruiting non-Arab/Middle Eastern/South Asian types.

John Walker Lindh
David Hicks
Richard Reid

accoding to a Heritage Foundation piece from 2003:

Arab Muslim males living abroad are one natural recruitment target, but some others are more surprising: young Caucasians, Latinos, Black Muslims and even women. Legal residents and travelers with valid passports are especially appealing for al Qaeda's recruit because they arouse less suspicion and can move more freely across international borders.

I think the best way to pic... (Below threshold)

I think the best way to pick people out for close screening is WEIGHTED selection - take into account gender, age, ticket purchase, etc. and then 'spin the wheel'.

25 year old bearded male from a muslim country who just paid for a one way ticket in cash? 99.9% chance of closer scrutiny.

Norwegian grandmother? 1% chance - but still, a chance.

Adjust the weighting based on both experience and threat level.

I am all for this. For thos... (Below threshold)
jack oneil:

I am all for this. For those that say they will just use non-Muslim looking people (e.g., white) I have this to say - I'd rather have them check/catch 99% right on the line than let 50% get on the plane because we did not want to hurt their sensibilities.

AQ won't "begin recruiti... (Below threshold)

AQ won't "begin recruiting blondes". They've already done that, at least in recruiting non-Arab/Middle Eastern/South Asian types.

You're arguing with yourself:

Legal residents and travelers with valid passports are especially appealing for al Qaeda's recruit because they arouse less suspicion

Yes. Exactly. The same people who are "especially appealing" to al-Qaeda are pulled from the exact demographic group that most of, say, the CIA hails from.

The point is that these al-Qaeda cells are so difficult to infiltrate because they tend to be clannish and insular. But once a terrorist group starts recruiting outside its own little world, it stops enjoying those advantages precisely to the extent that it opens itself up.

I'm simply saying that it's a double-edged sword. Sure, al-Qaeda can make detecting its operatives more difficult by recruiting "blondes," but every "blonde" that it allows into its world is potentially someone we really, really, really want to be there.







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