Thursday, August 13, 2020 -
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What is airport security for?

By definition, airport security is an invasion of, a derogation of and an “unequalization” of human rights. It is invasive because it reveals private knowledge of one’s property and one’s person. It is derogatory because it is public. It is unequal because it pits authorities against citizens in a context that allows citizens no right of appeal.

If airport security violates human rights in all of these senses, then why is it not done in a way that protects us all? That is, why does it not “profile” suspicious individuals and groups? Airport security is already a violation of human rights, so what’s the difference if we were to do it in a way that actually worked? Read related commentary from Dennis Prager

Specifically, we do not believe airport security works when it is merely a hassle. It is merely a hassle when it responds to the last terrorist method, rather than responds to the potential terrorist. The key is not the method that a given terrorist uses. The key is the terrorist. The terrorist is the decision- maker; his methods merely flow from his (or her) decisions, from his (or her) mind. Airport security should focus on the mind of the terrorist, not on the shoes and the liquids and the box cutters and the blankets and the bombs.

But how does one focus on the terrorist? Is this not circular? If one knows who the terrorist is to begin with, one does not need security procedures for the rest of us at all. Which means: Security must focus on the psychology of the passenger, not on his shoes, liquids and other appurtenances.

El Al Israeli Airlines’ security screening focuses on the psychology of the passenger. El Al also puts all baggage through metal detectors, but does so in a much less invasive and derogatory way than is done by other airlines. El Al’s method of security screening is often pejoratively called “racial profiling.” In fact, it is psychological profiling applied to individuals who exhibit worrisome signs, and to groups from which, for whatever reason, most terrorists have come. This is not “racial profiling”because if the pool of most terrorists were to change, so would El Al’s focus. There is nothing endemic or racially ineradicable to El Al’s psychological profiling. Read the related news story

Potential terrorists respond to certain questions in certain ways. Nothing in the current methods of the TSA even asks the right questions, let alone measures the answers and then acts against suspicious people. Not only that, but the mere fact that every traveler on an airline like El Al knows that he or she is subject to extensive psychological profiling serves as a deterrent in and of itself.

What is airport security for? Sounds like an obvious question with an obvious answer. It is to keep travelers safe. But that answer is hardly obvious because the methods of airline security outside El Al are not designed to zero in on the potential terrorist. In a word, the prevalent methods are not designed to keep us safe. That is their goal, to be sure; but it is not their modus operandi.

What should be done in airport security is what police in a democracy already do as a matter of course. Take drug raids, for example. Where do police consider doing drug raids? In neighborhoods where drugs are disproportionately sold. That such neighborhoods may or may not contain a disproportion of one race or another does not, or at least should not, determine the police’s decisions. The same holds true for airport security. The focus should be on those individuals whose neighborhoods, native countries or ethnic background disproportionately yield terrorists.

That is El Al’s focus. That should also be the focus and the training of all other airline and airport security screening.

If that means that terrorists will now attempt to recruit little old ladies in wheel chairs, then the focus of the psychologically oriented security screeners will change accordingly. That’s not “racial profiling”; that’s a logical extension of psychological profiling.

What is airport security for? Not for human rights. They are already violated by airport security — but not in a way that actually works.  Witness the massive failure of conventional, non-profiling airport security on December 25, 2009. If, unfortunately, we live in a world in which a traveler’s human rights are already compromised, they might as well be compromised in a way that works: with psychological profiling. If that overlaps with race, so be it; if that overlaps with other distinguishing human characteristics, such as age, gender,  country of origin or method of ambulation, so be it.

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