“In Defense of Profiling” by Sam Harris

I’ve wondered if part of the reason TSA operatives call out old ladies and children is not because they’re inept, but because they don’t want to appear discriminatory towards any group. They want to promote the idea that anybody could be a terrorist.

If you’re upset about the TSA patting down old ladies and children part of that is because you believe we can do much better figuring out which people would more likely be terrorists. But all we really know about people who are likely to use planes in an act of terrorism is that they’re male and usually muslim.

I believe everybody outraged over these random-appearing screenings is already complicit in profiling. But instead of them coming from the top (let’s screen THESE people) they’re coming from the bottom (let’s not screen THESE people). Ever notice that videos of dark-skinned people being screened by the TSA never seem to go viral? You really think that’s a coincidence?

Harris has gotten some heat about his views here, but he’s just taking TSA practices to their natural, uncomfortable conclusion. I’d be interested to read what happens when he and Bruce Schneier hash this out.

Schneier previously wrote about profiling:

As counterintuitive as it may seem, we’re all more secure when we randomly select people for secondary screening — even if it means occasionally screening wheelchair-bound grandmothers and innocent looking children. And, as an added bonus, it doesn’t needlessly anger the ethnic groups we need on our side if we’re going to be more secure against terrorism.