Machine Design

Freaked out by homeland security? What are you trying to hide?

Everyone agrees we have to find a way to prevent terror-prone Muslims from boarding airplanes.

But there is a vocal group that thinks some sort of unspecified nicey-nicey approach is the way to do it, and then nobody will get their feelings hurt. Other people believe profiling is the best approach even if, in the process, some innocent passengers are embarrassed at the security checkpoint.

What civil libertarians don't want to admit is that profiling is simple and effective. It is probably the most reliable way to keep suicidal maniacs from boarding while, at the same time, ending the strip searches of 70-year-old grandmothers who attend church services every Sunday.

One of the first effective instances of profiling involved drugs. Police along Interstate 95 on the East Coast began to notice an interesting thing about traffic stops. When they did drug searches during routine stops, they had a high hit ratio if they stopped rental cars from Florida with solitary male drivers heading north. It turned out that a favorite means of transporting drugs to New York had become clandestine drops by aircraft and boats off the coast of Florida, with the trip north completed by couriers driving rental cars.

So the cops began making license-plate checks of cars driven by solitary males. If the plates had been issued to a rental-car company, the police looked carefully for some reason to pull the car over and run a drug check. The result was that drug busts along I-95 skyrocketed. In the process, it also happened that most of the cars were driven by members of minority groups. Nevertheless, the cops knew what to look for. Profiling worked.

At least it did until the ACLU and racial advocacy groups began screaming about minorities being persecuted. They forced the police to keep meticulous records on the racial makeup of people being stopped. Woe to any trooper who stopped minorities out of proportion to their representation in the population. The advocacy groups didn't care about putting a dent in the drug trade or whether or not law-abiding minorities were being harassed. They simply felt that learning how to spot drug runners was a violation of civil rights because of the characteristics in the profiles.

I get a similar feeling of choking on niceness when I hear people express concerns about the government invading our privacy. If you object to the various high-tech methods for spotting potentially nefarious people, what is your problem? What are you trying to hide? Should cars have transponders so their locations can be known at all times? Hurrah! Then I won't have to worry so much about auto theft. Facial-recognition software for cameras aimed at public places? Be my guest. If there are people with outstanding warrants among us, have them picked up. Personally, I would like the cops to know exactly where I am at all times. You get that way living in a community where car jackings, ATM thefts, and street muggings are so common they often don't make their way into the newspapers.

And what do I look at on the Internet? The spammers seem to know, so why not the police? What kind of depraved sites do you visit that make you feel it necessary to keep your proclivities a secret?

Now let's turn to the homeland-security bill. Everything I've heard about it makes sense. My record is clean, and that makes me angry when I have to remove my shoes and genuflect at airport checkpoints. I want some sort of rating system so I can be waved through security without a hassle.

   - Ronald Khol, Editor

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