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"Profiling" and "discrimination" are not the same

Reader comment on item: Security Theater Now Playing at Your Airport
in response to reader comment: a flight to NYC christmas 2001

Submitted by M. Hiller (United States), Jan 6, 2010 at 23:06

One of the problems it seems, with the idea of profiling, is that the average person feels it is done by some automated machine that is programmed to discriminate a person's characteristics. Those could include their sex, age, weight, height, national origin, skin color, body language, facial hair, hair color, race, language, and plenty of other facts.

But there are really two distinct issues here: "automation" and "discrimination." We wrongly assume people are turned off by any automated machine (i.e. robot) that will analyze a person's physical traits. Yet that's 90% of what hospitals do, with the help of machines, doctors and nurses. People spend thousands of dollars for cat scans to identify problems. We think nothing of x-rays, or other probes traveling down our throats. We worry about the ingredients of foods and cancer-causing chemicals. We don't like foreign bodies inside of us, especially if they can kill us.

A passenger aircraft should our "body in the sky" and subjected to the same scrutiny of whatever gets put inside it. And if it speeds up boarding, improves safety, and lowers cost, with only a small minority of people inconvenienced by more screening, it should be acceptable. The other factor is that hot-button word, "discrimination," which needs to be redefined in a time of war or high danger. It should not simply signify "racism." In the real world it has always meant other things. For instance, it means to differentiate, distinguish, assess, compare, contrast, differentiate, discern, evaluate, extricate, judge, know, make out, note, perceive, separate, sever, sift, specify, split hairs, tell apart, tell the difference, define, delineate, describe, designate, identify, indicate, portray, or represent. Those are some synonyms.

The point is all people and animals discriminate constantly to survive. It's how we choose a spouse, our house, our pets, our friends, our jobs, our foods, our cars, and how we decide to travel. If air travel becomes a major pain to use, people will "discriminate" against it and use other means of travel or just stay home. So we should redefine the word "discrimination" to avoid its purely negative aspect. "Discrimination" is not simply "racism," as some think. We should help the public realize that we already live with technology and common-sense discrimination. Using it for air travel is more than just a useful idea. Our entire air travel industry is at risk of being grounded - exactly what the terrorists want.

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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