Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On Airline Profiling

Gary Becker's blog recently opined:

The optimal level of security on air travel is much higher than would be the case if an exaggerated fear of air travel due to possible terrorism were not so prevalent. For this reason, checking of shoes, laptops, liquids, and even body scanners may be often useful, even when they are not so effective.
In addition, greater profiling of passengers would be desirable. After the December bombing attempt, President Obama did order a more careful check of individuals coming from higher risk countries, such as Yemen. That is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. Young males of Moslem background have committed virtually all the terrorist attacks against airplanes traveling to, or within, the US. They should have the most invasive security checks. Since it is not always apparent who is a Moslem, this profiling would often have to be proxied by country of origin, name, and other such identifying features. Many law-abiding young Moslem males would be offended by having to go through an especially intensive security check, so they should be treated with the utmost respect. It might also be publicized that such intensive procedures would make it easier for young Moslem males to get American visas.
via uchicagolaw.typepad.com

I commented on his blog:

A major flaw of profiling is that, given the collection of sufficient data, it leaves a distinct trail of traits, characteristics, and behaviors to avoid. Dedicated terrorists could send decoys to probe for these profiling features. Akin to an ant colony optimization metaheuristic, the decoys' iterations could effectively deposit a metaphorical pheromone trail of least resistance, ultimately maximizing the probability of nondetection. Because of this, comprehensive screening of a random sampling of passengers becomes a superior strategy to profiling. Also, random screening more closely aligns with the socially desirable goal of respecting the Fourth Amendment. Assiduus usus uni rei deditus et ingenium et artem saepe vincit.

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