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How Profiling Works

Post-9/11 Profiling
Airline passengers have gotten used to stricter security measures at airports.
Airline passengers have gotten used to stricter security measures at airports.

After the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States (and subsequent terrorist attacks in the United States and elsewhere), the country is particularly sensitive to airport security screenings. Critics say that a disproportionate number of "Arab-looking" people have been detained, searched or questioned at airport security checkpoints. Some people claim this only makes sense, based on the ethnic backgrounds of the 9/11 attackers. However, such practices would violate civil rights law, and at least one expert has pointed out that focusing only on Middle-Eastern people would do more harm than good. Raphael Ron, former security head at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, has stated, "The worst attack on Ben Gurion was carried out by Japanese in 1972. If we focus on ethnic groups, we will miss what the enemy already understands: using a non-Arab person to carry out an attack might succeed" [ref].

In the months immediately following 9/11, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee brought to court several cases involving people of Arabic descent who were removed from flights despite having passed other security checkpoints. Courts determined that the pilot's discretion to remove objectionable passengers cannot be exercised simply because of a passenger's ethnic origin or race. Still, the threat of terrorism made many Americans accept this tactic. Transportation Safety Authority rules have since been changed to clarify that racial profiling at airport security checkpoints is not legal, and newer security systems are designed to be race-neutral, focusing instead on behavior patterns.

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