Saturday, January 02, 2010

Security at airports: racial and vowel profiling

I was subjected to a most thorough search at San Francisco Airport. The agent at British Airways handed me my boarding pass and a special priority pass for security, and yet added: but I need to warn you that you have been "selected" for a special security screening. I said: so what good will that special priority pass do me? She said: well, you dont have to sand in line to get to security. So I said: So I will not stand in line to get to security, but once I get there, I will be waiting and waiting. And then I asked her: how random are those random selections? Because if those selections are really random I should be winning the real Spanish lottery almost daily. Look: I know that I am somebody who can't stand inconvenience or discomfort or waiting of any kind. But the thing about all this is that it is dumb. Forget about civil liberty (which is not a big issue--not in the US and not in Europe lest those people in Europe feel smug about the US and its culture nowadays: I just read in the paper in London yesterday that a British Muslim MP made a statement in which he urged governments around the world to--yes, please--racial profile Muslims--kid you not) and about constitutional concerns but racial (or vowel profiling) are just dumb. Western governments were busy racial profiling Arabs, so Al-Qa`idah sent a Nigerian kook to blow up a plane. There are 1.4 billion Muslims in the world today, and Al-Qa`idah and like--minded terrorists can find some kook who does not fit the profile at airport to do their heinous crimes. So the best policy that can achieve a high level of effectiveness is real random search and extra screening. I should say: that the search and screening that I was subjected to was the most thorough that I was ever subjected to at US airports. Every item in my luggage was felt carefully, and I am afraid that I too was felt very carefully--to my great displeasure and annoyance. What do you do in those cases? Nothing really. I am the worst actor in the world and I can't mask how I feel or what I think. I did not say a word: just sat it out until it was done. He apologized to me later (by the end of it) and thanked me for my "cooperation." They put you in a little corner in view of all other passengers who are being whisked through with their luggage, boxes, and kitchen appliances while you sit there and hear somebody yelling (about you): Level two check. Where is X to do a Level Two check here?