The aftermath of the failed underwear bomber has profiling up for debate again, with all the predictable participants taking their predictable stances. Meanwhile, the U.S. has finally crossed the divide into a form of profiling, designating travelers from specific hotbeds of terrorist activity as subject to a “full-body pat down.” Over on the “Newt Gingrich Letter at Human Events.com, Newt Gingrich proclaims that “it’s time to profile.”
Gingrich is wrong. It has been time to profile for nine years.
The Bush Administration had the misfortune to be committed to a Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta, whose family was sent to an internment camp during World War II, simply because they were Japanese-Americans. It is understandable that Mineta has an emotional aversion to profiling in times of intensified national security, but it kept him from doing his job, constituting a personal conflict of interest that resulted in his establishing a stupidly know-nothing screening policy that delayed hundreds of thousands of flights, cost many millions of dollars, wasted uncountable hours, and allowed a disturbing number of unscrupulous airport security employees to feel up pulchritudinous teenaged girls wearing little more than tight tee-shirts and shorts. It was, and is, an idiotic policy to screen everyone to the exactly the same extent. Bush should have stopped it. Mineta should have been fired for it.
The screening of all travelers equally is based on core ethical principles: fairness, respect, and empathy. But it is dishonest (pretending that all travelers are equal risks) and a breach of the government’s core responsibility to keep its citizens safe, and those are ethical values too. Now that enhanced screening will involve even more traveling time, time that could be used productively to build businesses and feed families, and cost more money that the debt-ridden government and airlines do not have, there is no excuse for perpetuating Norman Mineta’s revenge for an admitted civil rights outrage. Stop screening elderly seniors who can barely walk, much less operate an underwear bomb. Stop patting down cheerleaders, beach bunnies and kids. Let members of Congress and celebrities go through—we’re in no danger from Al Gore, Derek Jeter or Chelsea Handler. Make reasonable distinctions among travelers according to risk factors, and act accordingly.
I understand the benefits of having all Americans do their part to assist in national security. I also think that it is the duty of Americans to grit their teeth and endure the indignity and the inconvenience of screening, if they are the ones being screened. I have an artificial hip that sets off the gate alarm, and I’m resigned to being wanded and patted down for the rest of my traveling days. And I don’t mind if bald guys with glasses are designated special risks, as long as they stop feeling up Suzy Creamcheese and wanding Justice Stevens.
Responsible, effective, efficient security screening requires intelligent profiling. Anything else is unethical, because it wastes resources and risks lives.