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In Defense of Profiling - my take on this
Posted: 01 May 2012 08:58 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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I’m new to this forum so I’m not sure if this is the correct place to post this but I couldn’t find any other comments on this topic so I’m posting mine here. 

I think that Sam makes a lot of cogent points in this article.  My biggest problem with it is that he does not address the fact that Islamic terrorists can and will USE people to meet their objectives.  The children or elderly couple obviously seem innocent enough but would you put it past a delusional Muslim to plant a device on a senior or on a kid?  I wouldn’t!  These were my thoughts when I read “In Defense of Profiling”.  I had to agree with many things Sam said but this one point was like a “splinter in my mind” to quote The Matrix.

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Posted: 01 May 2012 11:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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The problem with his article is that he assumes that terrorists are idiots. The 9/11 hijackers were not bearded mullahs, they were clean shaven, well-dressed, professional looking individuals. Profiling passengers based on their nationality might provide some use, since all the hijackers on 9/11 were Arab, however more recent terrorist attempts have been carried out in some cases by Caucasians. Now, if profiling was done by analysising facial expressions or body language, that would probably be the most effective way of detecting terrorists, however merely stopping every Arab or Muslim looking passenger to be searched would be humiliating for the innocent and only reinforce an US versus THEM mentality, which isn’t very conducive to deprogramming the religious or preventing terrorism. Naturally, Harris’ type of thinking is in line with Israeli policies, which are based on profiling Arabs who they are in the process of colonizing and making war with, so in their situation it is natural for them to profile and abuse Arab travelers. In the US though, where citizens are given equal rights, such behavior is considered immoral. I think Harris’ obsession with Islam has lead him to simply ditto the Israeli mindset without developing any kind of nuanced thoughts of his own, to our and his detriment. 

[ Edited: 01 May 2012 11:43 PM by bordiga]
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Posted: 02 May 2012 07:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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I totally agree with Sam, but I think we need to clarify a couple of points…

1]  picking people for invasive pat-downs at random (or seemingly random) is stupid and inefficient. the point is not to pick out people who “look like terrorists” but to avoid wasting valuable time hassling people who look like they couldn’t possibly be a terrorist! yes, it is theoretically possible to plant something on a kid in a wheelchair or an elderly white person, but c’mon… how likely is it? how does public humiliation of people like that make anyone safer? 

2]  this isn’t recommending “racial profiling” per se, it’s just asking why we can’t hire smart, perceptive people to do this kind of work and train them to a certain degree of expertise in reading people and situations. in other words; “criminal profiling” on the fly, as opposed to making security work rote, routine, and random. the whole process robs people of their dignity… including TSA employees!

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Posted: 03 May 2012 11:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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This is my opinion from the e-mail to Sam, since I don’t want to re-write everything:

You once made a point about architects and engineers flying planes into buildings, while making a 911 reference in a debate. Therefore, I assume that you agree that believing in Allah does not mean uneducated. Then what prevents surgeons and endocrinologists from performing plastic surgeries and changing skin. Nevermind passport fabrication. That is a huge advantage that we do not profile. Now, it is even possible that everyone’s body will be x-rayed due to a fear of implanted explosives [1].

Second, not only Muslim extremists represent a threat of terrorism. What about those random massacres of single killers and nuts. Anders Behring [2] was not a Muslim and certainly not from Iran, Iraq, Pakistan or Afghanistan. But still he went on to killing spree and 69 people died as a result. Profiling would not help filtering out and preventing these single-time, yet tragic events. And surely, Profiling does not help the general equality between races.

I fear that your readers got the “just scan those dark-skin bearded guys with kufis; I’ve got no time for this” vibe, thus the repulsion.

[1] http://homeland.house.gov/news/newsday-feds-warn-bombs-implanted-passengers
[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/03/norway-massacre-witnesses-shooting-spree

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Posted: 06 May 2012 01:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Atheist Chris Stedman has written a response to"In Defense of Profiling.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-stedman/sam-harris-racial-profiling_b_1472360.html

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Posted: 07 May 2012 01:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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I just read Sam’s “In Defense of Profiling” and “On Knowing Your Enemy” articles.


My take: when I first read “In Defense of Profiling”, it made me squirm.  I’m a big fan of Sam’s, and he was pushing me way out of my comfort zone.  It’s a dehumanizing thing to profile people.  It goes against all my values.


And yet…


Having just read Sam’s rebuttal to his critics - “On Knowing Your Enemy”: I think Sam really is correct.  That is, he’s not wrong about any of the points he makes.  It’s no doubt true that if we were to explicitly profile Muslims, that we would get better security results.  All of the arguments against Sam are rationalizations of the squirm factor (as described above).


Consider, tho, that we have had, so far, a 100% success rate with deterring terrorism in the US (correct me if I’m wrong), even using our less-than-optimal methods.  So the real question is: are we ready to give up our sense of fair play - of inherent equality among all people - in order to gain a security advantage?


My answer at this point is No.  But that could change, depending on what happens in the future.


Question for Sam: why do you think we need to increase the effectiveness of our anti-terrorist security screening at this point?

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Posted: 07 May 2012 03:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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ON KNOWING YOUR ENEMY is Sam at his rational best!  His reasoning really exposes all the political correct, mystical so-called atheists who are in denial of reality.

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Posted: 07 May 2012 11:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Why not go back to the pre-9/11 security standards where all you had to do was walk through a metal detector and put your bag through x-ray? Even if it is less effective I don’t see that as a problem, it’s just a matter of where you want to draw the line between security and personal convenience/privacy/dignity. And it makes profiling a moot point because the security measures that we would apply to people who fit the profile wouldn’t be so objectionable that they couldn’t be universally applicable.

Not to sound insensitive, but all of this 9/11 paranoia is getting a bit old.

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Posted: 08 May 2012 06:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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We don’t need to go back to pre-9/11 ignorance.  There is a terrorist threat (just look at the news today!) but it needs to be rational and implemented with precision and actually targeted to Islamic terrorists who are working (often ineptly) overtime to pull off another stunt designed to ‘terrorize.’  Sam addresses this issue with intelligence, rationality and the greatest respect for rights of non-terrorists.

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Posted: 08 May 2012 05:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Does Sam walk on water as well?

mormovies - 08 May 2012 06:44 AM

We don’t need to go back to pre-9/11 ignorance.  There is a terrorist threat (just look at the news today!) but it needs to be rational and implemented with precision and actually targeted to Islamic terrorists who are working (often ineptly) overtime to pull off another stunt designed to ‘terrorize.’  Sam addresses this issue with intelligence, rationality and the greatest respect for rights of non-terrorists.

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Posted: 08 May 2012 05:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Strong profiling is not mathematically optimal for discovering rare malfeasors

“The use of profiling by ethnicity or nationality to trigger secondary security screening is a controversial social and political issue. Overlooked is the question of whether such actuarial methods are in fact mathematically justified, even under the most idealized assumptions of completely accurate prior probabilities, and secondary screenings concentrated on the highest-probablity individuals. We show here that strong profiling (defined as screening at least in proportion to prior probability) is no more efficient than uniform random sampling of the entire population, because resources are wasted on the repeated screening of higher probability, but innocent, individuals. A mathematically optimal strategy would be “square-root biased sampling,” the geometric mean between strong profiling and uniform sampling, with secondary screenings distributed broadly, although not uniformly, over the population. Square-root biased sampling is a general idea that can be applied whenever a “bell-ringer” event must be found by sampling with replacement, but can be recognized (either with certainty, or with some probability) when seen.”

http://www.pnas.org/content/106/6/1716.full?sid=3bc684ec-b593-41e9-b03e-2e3f32bc42b0

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Posted: 08 May 2012 08:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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“Does Sam walk on water as well?”

No.  But on some issues he speaks out when he know his view will not popular and/or in the minority.  That’s why I’m attracted to his work even if I don’t always agree (and I don’t).

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Posted: 08 May 2012 09:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Bruce Schneier makes the point in his essay “The Trouble with Profiling” that:

“the chances any profiled flier will be a Muslim terrorist is 1 in 80 million. Add the 19 9/11 terrorists—arguably a singular event—that number drops to 1 in 8 million. Either way, because the number of actual terrorists is so low, almost everyone selected by the profile will be innocent. “

However, what he does not do is to identify a profiling strategy that has a higher probability of success!  All profile strategies will have a very low success rate when compared to the “630 million annual airplane fliers “.


Indeed, he stresses that the number of Arab and semitic-looking passengers is likely very low - only 2.4%.  This, it seems to me, indicates that this profile is likely to be a very efficient one in a relative sense, because it allows 97.6% of passengers to possibly receive expedited screening. This appears to bolster Sam’s argument, not his own.


If one out of every eight million passengers is a Muslim terrorist, then the total number of Muslim terrorists potentially identified by Muslim-Semitic profiling would be expected to be 79 per year.  This seems to me to be an extraordinarily high number, and I would challenge Mr. Schneier to identify a profile which would give significantly better results.


The current screening system which everyone despises has certainly apprehended far fewer than 79 terrorists per year.  By his own figures, Mr Schneier seems to certify that Sam Harris’s strategy should replace our current system as soon as possible.

[ Edited: 08 May 2012 09:12 PM by Gingerbaker]
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Posted: 09 May 2012 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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You completely miss Bruce’s point. Not all Islamic terrorists are Arab. By only focusing on Arab looking passengers you are leaving gaping holes in your security that the terrorists could easily exploit.

Secondly, it is almost impossible to identify who is Muslim and who is not, so screening Muslims would be impractical. Competent terrorists will not be wearing Muslim garb.

Lastly, the US has not experienced a successful terrorist attack since 9/11. All terrorists have been stopped before they could carry out their act. You are claiming that profiling will net us an expected 79 per year. Where are all these extra terrorists coming from? Your logic doesn’t hold, unless you think the “improved” screening will actually generate terrorists (LOL). By all measures our security has been adequate at stopping terrorists, Sam Harris isn’t even arguing that it isn’t, he just thinks that it is inconveniencing the wrong people.

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Posted: 09 May 2012 11:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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“By only focusing on Arab looking passengers you are leaving gaping holes in your security that the terrorists could easily exploit. “


And who has argued that Sam’s proposal would be the *only* strategy employed? Did you read the article Sam linked about a discussion with Israeli airport security? They use other methods as well, but Muslim profiling is a given.


“You are claiming that profiling will net us an expected 79 per year.”

No, I am not claiming that - Schneier was estimating that.


The point being that his analysis only went so far as to imply that Muslim profiling would have a low success rate.  What he neglected to point out was that ALL profiling could be expected to have a low success rate, because of the few actual terrorists and the huge number of airport passengers. Nevertheless, his own figures appear to hoist him by his own petard, because his own figures show that Muslim profiling would be a) very effective (obviously, 79 expected detections a year is far greater than what the current system has produced)  and b) extremely non intrusive for the vast majority of passengers. Don’t blame me for Schneier’s estimates.

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Posted: 09 May 2012 11:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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The issue not being blatantly addressed here is ‘rights.’  Do we violate citizen’s personal rights for the sake of safety or political correctness?  If we trample our rights, don’t the terrorists win by default?  Do we want to be safe and live under the ‘Patriot Act?’  Everybody makes excellent points including Harris and Schneier.  A tough issue.

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