Racial Profiling: no place in the avsec arsenal

by Philip Baum

In case you didn’t know, I’m an ardent supporter of profiling! And it certainly seems as if Donald Trump favours profiling too. The only problem is that he obviously has no comprehension of the fact that racial profiling does nothing to enhance security. Quite the opposite; his outspoken, ill-judged remarks regarding the entry of Muslims into the United States and the controls that might be placed on mosques should he be elected President of the United States sent shivers down the spines of America’s friends and allies around the world…and, hopefully, many at home as well. His comments were incendiary and are likely to contribute to radicalisation as even more disillusioned youth become alienated by the political elite.

In the UK, reflecting the international disdain, more than half a million people have (at the time of writing) signed a petition to have Trump banned from entering the country and the British parliament is bound to formally debate any petition that attracts more than 100,000 signatories. So not only have Trump’s headline-grabbing remarks caused insult to the very community we need to better engage with, they also have the potential to cause a political rift between the US and its Western partners (even if the idea of the UK actually banning a US presidential hopeful is a non-starter). For the likes of Islamic State and al-Qaeda that in itself would be a coup.

At the same time, there is no doubt that Islamic fundamentalism poses the greatest threat to society, as exemplified with the recent attacks in Sinai, Paris, Bamako and California. The aviation industry, being the prime target, is forced to deliberate how best to counter that threat without allowing itself to succumb to Trumpesque tactics.

Part of the solution lies in the use of an ever-increasing and impressive array of security screening technologies and processes, which might highlight the presence of explosives in baggage or cargo, on the person, or inside vehicles accessing security-restricted areas. There is nothing politically incorrect about this; it is merely a question of government and industry buy-in. Improving the calibre of the personnel we are employing to operate the sophisticated high-tech equipment we are deploying, and to enact the various procedures developed to safeguard flights, is also key. Again, few question this, albeit a disturbing number of states consider the number of bodies on duty to be indicative of their commitment to human factors, rather than the skills and commitment of those people.

But the third element is that of profiling… although call it ‘behavioural analysis’ if that sits more comfortably with you. It’s time to cease the one-size-fits-all approach to screening, desist from continually placing the topic on the back burner as a solution too challenging to deploy, and embrace it as being the key reason why there have not been more successful attacks perpetrated against our way of life. Thankfully, the security services do use profiling – and successfully.

But racial profiling? No. Not only is it morally reprehensible, it is also counter-productive.