Schneier on Airport Security Profiling

It’s been a long time since I cited security expert Bruce Schneier, who brings rational thought and common sense to discussions dominated by fear and gut reactions. The Trouble With Airport Profiling asks “Why do otherwise rational people think it’s a good idea to profile people at airports?” Responding to a proposal that TSA address its airport security efforts to “Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim” Schneier argues that such profiling would put air travelers at greater risk:

  • It is not accurate.

Post 9/11, we’ve had 2 Muslim terrorists on U.S airplanes: the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber. If you assume 0.8% (that’s one estimate of the percentage of Muslim Americans) of the 630 million annual airplane fliers are Muslim and triple it to account for others who look Semitic, then the chances any profiled flier will be a Muslim terrorist is 1 in 80 million. Add the 19 9/11 terrorists — arguably a singular event — that number drops to 1 in 8 million. Either way, because the number of actual terrorists is so low, almost everyone selected by the profile will be innocent.

  • It is under-inclusive.

[T]o assume that only Arab-appearing people are terrorists is dangerously naive. Muslims are black, white, Asian, and everything else — most Muslims are not Arab. Recent terrorists have been European, Asian, African, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern; male and female; young and old.

  • It is too easy to avoid.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing is just a story, but humans are smart and adaptable enough to put the concept into practice.

  • It carries significant social and political costs.

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