To Profile or Not to Profile?

English: Bruce Schneier at CFP 2007: Open pane...
Bruce Schneier

English: Sam Harris
Sam Harris

A thoughtful debate between Sam Harris and Bruce Schneier. In the end, Schneier succinctly summarizes what is wrong with racial profiling:

“There are other security concerns when you look at the geopolitical

context, though. Profiling Muslims fosters an “us vs. them” thinking

that simply isn’t accurate when talking about terrorism. I have always

thought that the “war on terror” metaphor was actively harmful to

security because it raised the terrorists to the level of equal

combatant. In a war, there are sides, and there is winning. I much

prefer the crime metaphor. There are no opposing sides in crime; there

are the few criminals and the rest of us. There criminals don’t “win.”

Maybe they get away with it for a while, but eventually they’re caught.

“Us vs. them” thinking has two basic costs. One, it establishes that

worldview in the minds of “us”: the non-profiled. We saw this after

9/11, in the assaults and discriminations against innocent Americans who

happened to be Muslim. And two, it establishes the same worldview in

the minds of “them”: Muslims. This increases anti-American sentiment

among Muslims. This reduces our security, less because it creates

terrorists—although I’m sure it is one of the things that pushes a

marginal terrorist over the line—and more that a higher anti-American

sentiment in the Muslim community is a more fertile ground for terrorist

groups to recruit and operate. Making sure the vast majority of

Muslims who are not terrorists are part of the “us” fighting terror,

just as the vast majority of honest citizens work together in fighting

crime, is a security benefit.

Like many of the other things we’ve discussed here, we can debate how

big the costs and benefits I just described are, or we can simplify our

system and stop worrying about it.

One final cost. Security isn’t the only thing we’re trying to optimize;

there are other values at stake here. There’s a reason profiling is

often against the law, and that’s because it is contrary to our

country’s values. Sometimes we might have to set aside those values,

but not for this.”

(Sam Harris)