Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

How I got profiled.

I've been following the reactions to security measures at airports these days. Understandably, most people are upset about the delays, new regulations about liquids etc.

Well, two summers ago I got profiled and I'm going to have to admit - it wasn't so bad.

I was flying out of Richmond to Lithuania, and while I was going through the line the fellow told me to step aside for the full treatment. This consisted of taking my shoes off (now alas, standard for all passengers) and being patted down. The patter wore surgical gloves and explained what he was doing, reassured me that he was using the backs of his hands while running them down the inside of my legs (in case I might suspect that he was copping a cheap feel I guess), was polite, professional and apologized for the inconvenience.

"Why the heck did he profile me?" thought I. Was this another absurd example of people being harassed who least fit the obvious and well-known, but taboo profile of terrorists likely to hijack or destroy an airliner? (You know, the "A" word and "M" word, shhhh!)

Then it occurred to me that a black-haired, tanned fellow with a nose some people have been unkind enough to call large (and when an Arab tells you you have a big nose I guess you have to face it, you have a big nose) - and a bunch of Arabic customs stamps in his passport, it begins to make sense, even with a classic Anglo-Irish last name.

I told this story in class later, and a fellow grad student asked, "Yeah Steve, but how'd you like to get profiled all the time?" Well, like I told the security guy at the airport, I like it a hell of a lot better than I'd like getting blown out of the sky.

Yeah I know, as a libertarian I ought to be screaming "Police state!" every time anyone in a uniform asks to see my ID. But you know, since I got myself a family I've been a lot more concerned about how I'm going to see my kids grow up and what kind of world they'll inherit. I'll go into it more later, but this is a horror we're going to have to live with, probably forever. Rather than kvetching about how our rights are being trampled on by the jack-booted minions of the state (as enjoyable a passtime as that is) we might try contributing to the debate by discussing, oh say: realistic non-PC profiling, pre-cleared passenger status for frequent flyers, or (gasp!) continuous surveillance of people we reasonaly suspect have terrorist inclinations.

Think I'm caving in? Selling out? Now let me tell you one more story about that trip. On the way back I had a change of planes in O'Hare airport. First I was told my plane was delayed due to "mechanical difficulties". Then I was told that my flight had been cancelled and they'd have to put me up in a motel. They put me up in a motel 45 minutes across town because at least half a dozen other flights had been cancelled due to "mechanical difficulties". Probably more because all of the accomodations near the airport where they usually put up travellers who miss flights were full. I never saw a word about it on the news.

I dunno about you, but I think it was a security issue, and that it goes on a lot more than they are letting on.


  • At 8:25 AM, Blogger Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said…

    I grudgingly accept the security hassles at the airport, but I do wonder whether the expense and hassle of bothering everyone at the airport (such as my 50-year-old librarian wife) really provides much additional security. I'd prefer to limit the hassles to people who fit profiles. Bruce Schneier, a security expert I've been reading lately, argues that most of the security gains since 9/ll come from reinforcing the cabin cockpits on airplanes and from teaching everyone to resist when a hijack is attempted, and that all of the TSA stuff on the ground has added little to real security. Tom.


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