Thursday, January 6, 2011

Airport Security and Racial Profiling Part 2

     After rereading my last post on racial profiling and doing some thinking I realized that the issue of racial profiling in the context of airport security is a much more complex issue to which there is probably no clear correct answer. No matter what position we take, we are going to have to compromise on some of our (commonly) held values.  Also, coincidentally about a month ago on NPR there was a very interesting panel debate with some of the top experts in the world on the subject, which got me to figuin'.  I'm going to recap the main themes of some the arguments and give some of my own thoughts.  By the by, here's the link to the debate if you're interested:

     There are 3 main issues that I find interesting:  the legality of racial profiling; the "human" aspect of profiling; and the efficacy aspect.  

The legal issue
     Lets look at the legality of racial profiling in the context of airport security.  I find it interesting that in the mainstream media you don't hear too much about this.  Maybe it will be mentioned indirectly in conjunction with the human aspect but I've never read (maybe I just haven't looked hard enough) an article devoted exclusively to legal considerations.  So, being the US constitutional scholar that I am, I will endeavour to fill this void. 
     The legal argument revolves around the 4th amendment.  For those of you aren't rabid libertarians or don't have wikipedia on hand, the amendment concerns search and seizure without probable cause.  Off the top of my head (not lifted from wikipedia, I just like to pepper my writing with the occasional blue) the 4th amendment

"guards against searches, arrests, and seizures of property without a specific warrant or a 'probable cause' to believe a crime has been committed."

So, from this perspective it seems a legal argument against profiling might have legs. There doesn't seem to be much probable cause.  However, there is more to the 4th amendment.  The 4th amendment regarding search and seizure without a warrent or probable cause is generally directed at actions occurring within someone's domicile.  For this reasons there are some important exceptions that are relevant to our investigation, and as a long time constitutional legal scholar specializing in the 4th amendment article on I can cut and paste the additional information for you:

Searches conducted at the United States border or the equivalent of the border (such as an international airport) may be conducted without a warrant or probable cause subject to the "border-search" exception.[68] Most border searches may be conducted entirely at random, without any level of suspicion, pursuant to U.S. Customs and Border Protection plenary search authority. However, searches that intrude upon a traveler's personal dignity and privacy interests, such as strip and body cavity searches, must be supported by "reasonable suspicion."[69] The U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fourth and Ninth circuits have ruled that information on a traveler's electronic materials, including personal files on a laptop computer, may be searched at random, without suspicion.[70]

So, like it or not, it seems that there is a general legal argument for search without warrant and probable cause in airports.  An interesting issue does arise however:  wikipedia tells us that "border searches may be conducted entirely at random".  Does that mean, that they don't have to be at random? That is to say, they can be carried out "unrandomly"?  I don't feel like clicking on the link to "US Customs and Border Protection" to read all the specifics so I'm just going to hypothesize that, who is searched is up to each border officer.
    Tangential but relevant to all this is the interpretation of "probable cause":

the Court ruled in Dumbra v. United States268 U.S. 435 (1925), that “the term probable cause...means less than evidence that would justify condemnation[,]”

So where do we stand with the legal argument?  Basically, it seems that in international airports the US government has a legal right to search individuals with or without probable cause.  I have not found anything on the wikipedia 4th amendment page concerning biasing "random" searches toward certain groups; therefore, information regarding this matter does not exist.  Were I a betting man, I wager there's probably another wikipedia page about another amendment that could indirectly support the no profiling position.  
     On the other hand, any 1st year philosophy or political science student can tell you that pretty much the only role of government all people of all political stripes agree on (excluding anarchists, of course) is that of national defence.  If the populace, right or wrong, feels that the government is failing in this regard, that government is fair game for overthrow.  This means that given conflicting legal principles the government, and probably most segments of the population will lean toward the interpretation that favours (perceived) national security rather than violation of civil rights (profiling).
     Conclusion?  Racial profiling in US international airports in probably legal. 

The "Human" Issue
     I'm going to do something I don't usually do.  I'm going to appeal to anecdotal emotional arguments to illustrate the issues here.  First a story about a family friend

      I have a friend who is Egyptian-Canadian. He is quite successful and holds an executive position for a very large US firm, in the US. As part of his job he has to fly all over the US. After the airports reopened after 9-11, naturally he had to fly all over the US for business meetings. On one of his first post-9/11 flights he got up from his seat in the business section to use the lavatory. As he was making his way to the lavatory the stewardess yelled at him "you better sit your ass down or I'm gonna tackle yer ass!"
     There are so many things wrong with this scene it's hard to know where to begin. The basic issue is this, when you paint everybody from one group with the same brush, you end up with injustice to those who are innocent of any wrong doing. Do we really want to live in a society in which this occurs? What if, by chance, holding our personalities constant, those of us who have almost no pigment in our skins were born with higher levels of pigment? And/or were born into a family that believed in one set of beliefs (Islam) rather than other? To put it poetically, that would suck.

     But I'd like to counter this anecdotal argument with one of my own. When I lived in Japan, I lived in small and mid sized cities. In the non-cosmopolitan parts of Japan some business won't serve foreigners, apartments won't rent to you, and even video stores won't give you a membership. I'm not making this up. I lived it. But there were some instances where I felt this profiling was justified, and I even begrudgingly approved of it.

       In one of the towns where I lived there was only one night club, so if you wanted to go out, your options were limited. This night club would not let foreign men in without a Japanese friend that would "vouch" for you. At the door, you'd give your Foreigner ID card number and your Japanese friend would give his name. Sounds a bit much, doesn't it? The Japanese love of protocol and bureaucracy notwithstanding, what was this all about?

      Well, since the first foreigners came to Japan, they have for the most part acted like savages by drinking and fighting and abusing the women. The latest culprits are Brazilian imported labourers and US military personnel. If anyone has spent a night in Roppongi (the foreigners' nightclub district in Tokyo) you could not blame the Japanese for their policy. Roppongi is notorious for fights and drunken debauchery. I lived and worked in Roppongi for a year, at not once did I see a fight, or problem that involved a Japanese national, but I didn't observe a shortage of instances involving foreigners, especially US military.
      The was also a foreigners' bar in that same aforementioned mid-sized town. I saw plenty of fights there, all between foreigners.
     So, to wrap it up, I don't blame the Japanese for painting us white devils all with the same brush. Could I reasonably expect them, at a glance, to identify me as one of the "good" ones? In fact, when I went to the Japanese club with my Japanese friends I never had to worry about fights and drunken slobs. The atmosphere was much more pleasant, and even though it was a bit more trouble for me to get in, I benefited from the profiling. So, in an indirect way, this is an argument for profiling.
     There are of course many objections that can be raised. People don't have to go to night clubs but may have to travel for their business and livelihood; Japan is 97% ethic Japanese, US and A is not ethnically homogenous, and so on. This is true, but I only seek to illustrate a principle.
     So, is racial profiling ugly? Yup. But should national security policy be based on the "yuck" factor? Probably not. Have I lost the thread of my argument? Yup.
     I guess the human issue comes down to values. If racial profiling can be shown to be more effective than not in airport security, should we adopt it regardless of the undesirable consequences to a segment of the population? Or, phrased other way, do the negative consequences to a segment of the population outweigh potential increases in security efficacy?
     Lets use another anecdote to illustrate the point. The man who sold the tickets to some of the terrorists on one of the 911 flights felt suspicious about them. Something to do with the fact they they were wearing "poor man's shoes" but they had bought 1st class tickets, and of course they looked middle eastern. The three factors converged to raise the man's suspicions. Normally, in such a case, he'd walk the passengers over to security and give the security guys a signal to select them for a "random" security check. But on that day he didn't. He said he didn't because he didn't want people to think he was a racist. If his account is true, this man lives with the knowledge that he might have stopped a terrorist act.
     So where do we stand now? Having been subject to profiling (although, not as a terrorist, just as a barbarian) myself, given the history and other considerations I understood the why. On the other hand, my heart goes out to my friend. I certainly don't want anyone to have to go endure physical threats every time they get up to go to the bathroom. But that was an extreme case. No one is going around 
to Muslims now saying they are going to "tackle their ass". They are being pulled out of line to be searched more thoroughly. Annoying, yes. Humiliating and hateful? I'm not sure.
    Ok, this entry is getting too long to be a blog entry. I'm going to stop here and do a part 3, regarding empirical evidence of efficacy of methods later. Ta!ta!
    By the by, I'd love to hear what y'all think about this. I think it's a really interesting issue.

Update and New Year's Resolution

    Oh! My poor blog, how I have neglected thee!  This time it was not out of pure laziness; I've actually been working my butt off. First order of bi'nis.  
My semester at ASU:
     Man! I will start by saying this.  That was a lot more difficult than I expected.  I did not admit this at the time but after the 2nd week I was seriously considering dropping out and choosing a different path.  After going on a long hike and then talking to my Mom (thank you, Mom!), I talked myself off the ledge and decided to stick it out.  Actually, she helped soothe my self-doubt several times over the semester.
     I have never wanted to quit anything.  If anything, I continue doing things purely out of spite long after it becomes apparent that no positive results will emerge.  I've always believed that if other human beings can do something, so can I. I I I I I I I I I I I I I I.  So many "I"s=bad writing.  Startng now, the person wrtng ths wll stop usng so many eyes. Ok, maybe a few won't hurt. 
     Long story short, as the semester progressed, my brain slowly "remembered" how to function at a decent level and I ended up with some respectable grades.  Nevertheless, I feel like I'm at least a semester away from where I'd like to be in terms of my ability to grasp concepts.   With that in mind I have made a reading list and study plan for myself so I can be better prepared for next fall when I hopefully get accepted into a program that doesn't get it's funding pulled 6 weeks before classes start.
GRE/Grad Skoo
      In my typical style I made plans that were overly ambitious and oblivious the realities of the world.  My plan was to rewrite the GRE in the first week of January AND get all 12 or so applications done for Grad skoo, and do it all over the holidays when everyone else around me is relaxing and laughing and telling me to come out to this and that, and family dinners. HA! (that's reality laughing in my face).  Not to say I haven't tried to do all I set out to do.  I've studied every night except one and I haven't gone out with the exception of NYE and family dinners. 
    I finished my last term paper sometime in the afternoon around the 15th of December after a 48 hour marathon.  I took a nap then woke up and started studying for the GRE.  So far so good.
     I initially wrote it the GRE in Sept. 2009.  I figured 2 weeks this time should be fine.  Well, not really.  At least this time I remembered what the math concepts were, although I didn't get too many of questions right on my first practice test.  
     As for the applications, the first round was due on the Jan 1,2,3, and 5.  Nothin' but time, I thought.  I figured each application would take about 2 hours.  Fill out a form here, answer a question here, press "send" and done.  Enter reality.
     I'm not going to bore you with details, but anyone who's applied for grad school knows (and I know now) that I was as delusional as a homeopath peddling remedies for autism.  
     Basically, after about the 3rd or 4th day of studying, reality started to rear its ugly head, and more caffein wasn't going to make it go away.  I was 2 weeks away from my target date and nowhere near ready--and I was exhausted.  
       Basically since the beginning of December I'd been pushing myself to finish term papers.  And then I had to pack up my room, drive my stuff back to Vegas (shout out to my girl for helping me), continue to work on papers, fly to Vancouver (the whole flight I was frantically working on a paper).  Arrive at me Ma's house at 1am and basically kept working until the paper was done.
      But it wasn't until I started working on my applications that reality came crashing in like a fatman (wearing a bumble bee outfit) through Japanese paper doors.  
      So, after trying to keep the fatman in the bumble bee suit out as long as I could I've had to reassess the situation and reset my goals.  I stopped studying for the GRE for 5 days and just did applications.  Now I'm caught up on those.  Now I'm pushing my GRE date to the 1st week of Feb.  The schools that I've already applied for and that I apply for in late Jan. won't get the new (hopefully higher) scores.  My original scores aren't terrible, it's just that they're not spectacular either.  Enough about that stuff.  Lets talk new year's resolutions.

New Year's Resolutions

I almost made a resolution this year, but before I talk about it I would like to thank all the people who make fitness and diet resolutions every year.  Thank you for keeping my gym fees low.  Without you fools signing year long contracts every year to "finally" get in shape, gyms would not be able to offer the low membership prices they do for those of us who actually attend regularly.  For this gift I am willing tolerate, for 6 weeks max,  your hurkey-jerky movements in the gym, your preworkout, workout, and post-workout "nutrition" drinks, your either decades-old gym wear or obviously-never-before-used-brand-spanking-new gear; the crazy out dated exercises you learned back in high school P.E. class or remember from that aerobics class you took in the 80s.  In fact I'm even willing to tolerate those of you who act like you've been going to the gym all along even though you stand out like tourist in Vegas.  Yes, I will be magnanimous to you all...but only for 6 weeks.  After that I want my gym back.  Thank you for coming...see you next year!  
   Lest you all think I'm a gym snob, I'm quite the opposite.  I love helping beginners out.  When I see a kid (or adult) trying to do something and it is painfully obvious they have no clue what they are doing, I always go over and (politely) ask if I may offer some suggestions.  I've even given random strangers my phone number if they want me to help them out next time I'm at the gym.  No....I do not wish failure on anyone. I wish everyone success.  It's's hard not to by cynical sometimes when you've seen the same thing over and over, every January.  
     So, to all those newbies this year, don't be afraid to ask for some help from someone who seems to know what they are doing.  Most of us are happy to help and offer encouragement...even though we might snicker about you as a group.  Good luck!
    That brings me to what was going to be my new year's resolution.  I thought it might be good for me not to ridicule people with ridiculous beliefs.   The problem is, it's so hard to refrain!  It's not like I think I know everything in the world, but there are some beliefs and belief systems that are clearly ridiculous.  So, I've decided to take a moderate approach to this resolution because, I think in principle it's a good thing to do, and I'm definitely guilty of going overboard sometimes.  Also, that sort of behaviour is unbecoming of a philosopher.  So, here's my modified resolution: I will limit my scorn and ridicule of others to my blog.  I endeavour to abstain from such behaviour in public and (maybe) facebook!