Who Should The TSA Give A Pass?

May 7 2012 @ 9:26am

Sam Harris argues for some racial profiling at the TSA for efficiency's sake:

Some semblance of fairness makes sense—and, needless to say, everyone’s bags should be screened, if only because it is possible to put a bomb in someone else’s luggage. But the TSA has a finite amount of attention: Every moment spent frisking the Mormon Tabernacle Choir subtracts from the scrutiny paid to more likely threats. Who could fail to understand this? 

Josh Rosenau lobs a multi-tiered attack on Harris' logic, including research which suggests that profiling doesn't work:

[T]errorists aren't stupid. If you create a system that predictably makes certain people less susceptible to screening, terrorists will see that and find ways to exploit that opening. If you screen folks from certain countries more thoroughly, terrorists recruit people from other countries to make your attack. If folks with Arabic names are being given extra screening, terrorists recruit guys with names like Jose Padilla. …

[N]ot only doesn't it work, it's also immoral.

It's immoral for the same reasons that apartheid, Jim Crow laws, and the internment of Japanese-Americans were immoral. Using those broad markers as a basis for how we treat individuals means that we ignore the person, reducing that person to whatever stereotype we choose to impose. It's bad public policy, and it's bad police work. I would argue, in fact, that the practical ineffectiveness of such policies is an inevitable result of their moral failings.

Hemant Mehta takes the long view:

Would the ramifications of specifically profiling Muslims do more harm than good? Wouldn’t we be giving young Muslims a reason to distrust (and despise) the American government?

Chris Stedman chastises Harris for not using his own atheism to recognize the damaging effects of being singled out:

Over the last few years, I've watched with despair as an increasing, increasingly-less-subtle xenophobic anti-Muslim undercurrent has spread throughout the atheist movement, cloaked by intellectual arguments against Islam's metaphysical claims and practices and rallying cries in defense of free speech. Though it has been spreading throughout our broader culture, I'm especially disheartened to see it among my fellow atheists. 

In an addendum, Harris responds to critics but stands by his larger point:

When I speak of profiling "Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim," I am not narrowly focused on people with dark skin. In fact, I included myself in the description of the type of person I think should be profiled (twice). To say that ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, dress, traveling companions, behavior in the terminal, and other outward appearances offer no indication of a person’s beliefs or terrorist potential is either quite crazy or totally dishonest. It is the charm of political correctness that it blends these sins against reasonableness so seamlessly.

A round-up of recent TSA absurdities here.