Saturday, July 09, 2005


Profiling: Is it worth it?

I've heard a lot of talk about racial profiling in various law enforcement circles over the past few years, combined with some of the best arguments for and against. Tempus Fugit provides one of the best arguments in favor of profiling that I've read in a while.

“Oh no!” I hear you say. “We can’t treat certain people to increased scrutiny. That’s just not fair!” I agree. It’s not fair to law-abiding Muslims that the vast majority of terror attacks are carried out by their religious and ethnic brethren. It’s also not fair to law-abiding citizens for governments to ignore
that fact.

Consider this scenario: 12 people are getting on a plane. 6 are men of European descent, and 6 are men of Middle-Eastern descent. You are required to search half of the men. Which ones do you search? Your answer depends on what you hope to accomplish. If you hope to search the people who are most likely to pose a threat, you’ll search the 6 Middle-Eastern men. If you are more concerned with making your search selection appear random, you’ll search 3 men from each group. It’s not that all Muslims are terrorists. Far from it. It’s that almost all terrorists are Muslim, so in any group of people, the Muslim male (or sometimes even the Muslim female) is the one who is most likely to be a terrorist. If you do not search the people who are most likely to be a terrorist, you have a goal other than maximizing the safety of citizens.

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