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Posted at 1:24 PM ET, 11/23/2010

Amid pat-down uproar, the public does not support racial profiling

By Greg Sargent

Glenn Greenwald and Eugene Robinson are understandably upset about the uproar over the TSA pat-downs, because they think people are only angry over these policies now that they are being targeted. If the policies were only directed at Arabs and Muslims, Greenwald and Robinson suggest, people would be just fine with them.

As Greenwald puts it, people are "angry that, this time, it's being directed at them -- rather than those dark, exotic, foreign-seeming Muslims who deserve it."

Well, not according to the internals of the new Washington Post poll on the TSA patdowns. The whole uproar over this is deeply depressing on many levels, but perhaps here's one bright spot: While the public overwhelmingly supports profiling in general, majorities oppose profiling based on race and religion. Take a look:

profiling.JPG

As you can see, a large majority, 70 percent, favor profiling. But a majority, 59 percent, opposes profiling based on race and religion. It's not great that 55 percent want profiling based on nationality, of course. But at least race and religion are seen as non-starters.

This is going to be tremendously disappointing to those on the right who are seizing on the pat-down furor in order to renew calls for racial profiling. On a different note, though, it's worth asking whether the above numbers show that the debate over pat-downs is having something of a salutary effect.

As Greenwald noted, it would be nice to imagine that the growing rage over the TSA invasions might help focus the public on the notion that fear of terrorism shouldn't always trump civil liberties and privacy concerns. It is perhaps reason for optimism that amid their outrage over the pat-downs, Americans are not willing to agree in large numbers that people should be targeted based on race and religion.

UPDATE, 2:11 p.m.: It's probably worth emphasizing that it is dispiriting that 55 percent are okay with profiling based on nationality, since that could be a proxy for the more controversial categories of race and religion.

By Greg Sargent  | November 23, 2010; 1:24 PM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy and national security  
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Comments

I'm about rdy to travel with my better half this week.

We'll see how it goes. Neither of us are going to go through the scanners as they haven't been thoroughly tested yet for certain things. Not sure if I'm too keen on mutagenic sperm.

I might end up with an embarrassment like STRF as offspring or something. I don't want to have to explain that he/she is harmless every year at family get togethers and to not stare too long at the drool.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | November 23, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

The categories here are a bit nebulous. Descriptions such as "Nationality" and "Personal Appearance" can easily be interpreted as code words for "Race" and "Religion", with just a lot more wiggle room.
For ex. I oppose profiling based on religion, but if that man is wearing a turban...

Posted by: kpow1 | November 23, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

@ Greenwald-

"on the notion that fear of terrorism shouldn't always trump civil liberties and privacy concerns."

I fully expect some on the Right to ignore this and the strident among them to fan the flames of fear wherever possible.

Posted by: ChuckinDenton | November 23, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

I love that a plurality supports "Personal Appearance" as being one of the criteria. I call this the Disney effect. Who are the bad guys? Why the ugly ones, of course.

Posted by: klautsack | November 23, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

"Glenn Greenwald and Eugene Robinson are understandably upset about the uproar over the TSA pat-downs, because they think people are only angry over these policies now that they are being targeted."

Did I miss something? Was somebody else receiving full body scans and extra-friendly pat downs before, and the problem is only now that what had previously been reserved only for swarthy young middle-eastern men between the ages for 18 and 35?

And, um, yeah, people end up complaining more about things that directly effect them, and that they've directly experienced. Imagine that.

That being said, even viewed at a a distance, this is obviously security theater than an actual enhancement to security, and the politically correct kabuki of it all *should* irritate people.

@kpo1: "For ex. I oppose profiling based on religion, but if that man is wearing a turban..."

That would be poor profiling. None of the Muslim's who have successfully, or attempted to, perform a terrorist attack on or with a plane has been wearing a turban. The closest was the Flying Imams, and that was psy-ops, not bombs-and-anthrax type terrorism.

I support profiling on that various factors that may add up to an actual accurate profile, including but not limited to appearance, age, gender, behavior, apparent emotional state, how the tickets were purchased, when the tickets were purchased, if they are one way or not, country of origin, country of destination, appearance on a watch list, etc., etc. Race is, of course, a potential factor in appearance, but is hardly the primary one.

But if we don't want to profile, fine. No profiles. But substituting something stupid, scattershot, and ineffective (as previous iterations of security kabuki, designed to stop the last terrorist attack, did not stop the shoe bomber or the underwear bomber from getting on board and attempting to execute their plans) that involves harassment of children, the elderly and infirm for no demonstrable benefit . . . better just to go back to how it was before 9/11. We won't be any less safe and air travelers will be 98% less harassed.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | November 23, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

klautsack: "I love that a plurality supports 'Personal Appearance' as being one of the criteria. I call this the Disney effect. Who are the bad guys? Why the ugly ones, of course."

Or the nervous, sweating, twitchy one who has trouble making eye contact. And shuffles nervously when asked where they are going, and replies as if reading from a script.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | November 23, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

One of the things I find most amusing about Mr Sargent's blog is his efforts to "explain" the people on the right to the people on the left.

The source of the amusement is that Mr Sargent really has no special insight into us at all. None. Want proof? Here ya go:
"This is going to be tremendously disappointing to those on the right who are seizing on the pat-down furor in order to renew calls for racial profiling."

It isn't racial profiling at all, it is using a "threat assessment" as the poll seeks to do. In other words should we be as concerned about an eight year old traveling with her parents from Des Moines to Pittsburgh as we are with an eight year old traveling with her parents from Lahore to Dearborn?

Uh, Greg, look at the poll results (question b). Shouldn't that give you a clue about what Americans think of the current process?

The approach being taken by the TSA is heavy handed at a time when Americans are simply disgusted with their government. It is my opinion that this entire issue is part of a revolt against the Feds. We saw the early traces of this during the summer of discontent when Democrat congress people cancelled town hall meetings rather than face the wrath of their own constituents. The TSA employees can't just cancel what they do so they are the current lightning rod for the discharge of anger.

There will be more to follow.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | November 23, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Kevin Willis - I agree completely. Harass the ones with poor social skills.

Posted by: klautsack | November 23, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

How long do you think TSA employees can sit in the nudie booth looking at scans before their eyes start to glaze over?

Obama made a big deal (rightfully) about balancing security with civil liberties. He's dropping the ball on this one for no good reason, as there are viable alternatives that get closer respecting the 4th amendment. Namely, metal detectors and bomb dogs, which would give the TSA a reason for a closer inspection if they signal.

Also, the TSA has expanded their searches to look for items that pose no threat to plane, such as drugs. They've even harassed passengers over cash and checks that they deemed suspect. (http://www.philly.com/inquirer/columnists/daniel_rubin/20100818_Daniel_Rubin__An_infuriating_search_at_Philadelphia_International_Airport.html?viewAll=y)

The TSA is not law enforcement and should be limited to searching for actual threats to the airport and plane. It can accomplish that without the scans or the patdowns, and that's I'm upset about it. Anything beyond that requires probable cause or a warrant. If it wants to question and/or search me further due to a such a concern, it can get law enforcement with probable cause or a warrant.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | November 23, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

This poll is completely worthless in my opinion. I would guess relatively few people are willing to admit when asked that race should be a factor. I also don't particularly care. As Juan Williams' comments showed, people seem to have poorly thought out assumptions about what a terrorist looks like. What they look like would seem to be far less important than other factors like having a one-way ticket, a lack of luggage and other factors that people far more knowledgable than me on the topic are aware of. Can we let them do their job?

Posted by: ashotinthedark | November 23, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

@ashot: "Can we let them do their job?"

It depends. What is their job? Do look for illegal drugs and large sums of cash or odd checks or money orders, as NoVAHockey noted? To harass folks with prosthetics or ostomy bags?

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40291856/ns/travel-news

Anyone else see the SNL TSA skit? Good stuff.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/21/snl-tsa-pat-downs_n_786541.html

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | November 23, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

And don't forget Adam Savage's recent experience that suggest the TSA's Enhanced Inspection Procedures aren't worth more than a waterboarded confession:

http://gizmodo.com/5697222/adam-savage-mythbusting-airport-security-wtf-tsa

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | November 23, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I'm amazed that the left is defending this and telling people that the choice is to not fly. This from the party of my body my choice and no to the Patriot Act. I don't see how anyone can defend this as anything other than a complete abuse of our 4th amendment rights. I accept as a condition of flying metal detectors or "puffer" machines. If I set off a metal detector, I accept that I should have emptied my pockets first and now I might get patted down. I have no issues with a dog sniffing me or my bags. But when the choice is an invasive scan or body search, I draw the line. These scans are being done on a supposedly random basis, meaning I've done nothing wrong and have triggered no profiling pattern to mark me. What this amounts to is the Government telling me to subject myself and family to a potentially invasive search; that is unacceptable.

Posted by: Bailers | November 23, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Also, not that I'm terribly shy and prepossessing, but the often clinically explicit Rapiscans that supposedly can't ever be saved or accessed by anybody else are, of course, subject to the same limitation of anything that involves computers. And they sure do seem to show a lot:

http://gizmodo.com/5696371/exclusive-tsa-says-body-scanners-saving-images-impossible?skyline=true&s=i

Yeesh. Yay, security. Fortunately, I like to drive places.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | November 23, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Someone should tell them two of the bombers were white. Perhaps they would think again if they knew white people would be the ones profiled along with blacks and middle easterners...

Sounds like the same screening line, just another reason to be in the line...

Posted by: soapm | November 23, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Orlando Airport kicks out the TSA?

http://gizmodo.com/5693455/orlando-airport-kicks-out-the-tsa

If so, cool. I didn't know they could do that, but apparently they can. Hopefully other airports will follow suit, if so.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | November 23, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

The Charlotte International Airport is considering dumping the TSA and San Fran already uses a private contractor. Huh! You learn something new every day.

That's cool. So, essentially, the problem isn't the TSA as much as the airports that haven't replaced them with a superior private sector product.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | November 23, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Kevin -- saw your link and found one off of that -- it's a good read:

http://gizmodo.com/5696160/why-the-tsa-could-lead-us-to-public-rebellion-or-a-terrorist-attack

Posted by: NoVAHockey | November 23, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm not a huge fan of the TSA rules, but in terms of the entire trumped-up GWOT (pronounced "GEE-what") it seems like small potatoes. If I could develop a wish-list of things we didn't do to appease a vocal 20 % of the population over fears of terrorism, getting rid of the TSA pat-downs would be pretty far down on the list.

The fact that people are upset about the pat-downs tells me that this was never about security for these folks in the first place. Terrorism was a vehicle for them to vent their hatred. Vented in whistling bombs floating gracefully downward toward a village of innocent, destitute people.

Posted by: klautsack | November 23, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

@klautsack: "Terrorism was a vehicle for them to vent their hatred. Vented in whistling bombs floating gracefully downward toward a village of innocent, destitute people."

So, someone can't be opposed to pre-emptive wars *and* our politically correct system of security kabuki?

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | November 23, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

All, Chris Van Hollen holds forth on the true nature of the GOP opposition:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/11/van_hollen_dems_need_to_prepar.html

Posted by: Greg Sargent | November 23, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

@NovaHockey: Thanks! There are some great quotes in that article. One that stuck out to me:

{{Currently, there is no way to know whether a certain male screener routinely identifies predominantly women for additional screening. There is no way to identify whether a Latino screener routinely isolates African-Americans, or vice versa. To assert that the screeners are highly trained and do not engaged in this type of discrimination, whether passive or active, is unsupportable because there is no data. You simply cannot solve problems that you do not want to identify.
}}

There ya go. Not only are we probably profiling (i.e., screening mostly compliant candidates) but we have no way of telling if there is profiling going on, or what sort of discrimination is going on in the TSA, because we don't track the data.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | November 23, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

@skipsailing-

"It is my opinion that this entire issue is part of a revolt against the Feds".

Which follows the narrative you've been pimping here for months that the Federal government is veddy veddy bad. Yawn.

Posted by: ChuckinDenton | November 23, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Kevin Willis -

Well, that's probably the most consistent position. And maybe now that we actually have to, you know, participate in GWOT, we won't be so flip about it. But my interpretation of a lot of the griping is that people just can't be bothered to do this teensy bit to make us safer while asking others in the US military and around the world to sacrifice literally everything over the miniscule possibility that another terrorist strike occurs. When I hear people advocating appearance-based profiling, that just seems to confirm it in my mind. This isn't about terrorism - and never has been. Now, if you can profile someone based on peculiarities of their travel plans, or even all males 18-25 years old, I'd be more receptive to that. But picking someone out of a crowd because they're nervous, disorganized, or a bad traveler seems stupid and very easy to game.

Posted by: klautsack | November 23, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

offensive choice of words notwithstanding, the American public, via the recent election, agrees with my position on the quality of our government.

And for the record chuckie, it isn't just the federal government. Here in northern Ohio we have to deal with malignant government at all levels.

For example, today yet another prominent member of the Cuyahoga county community was indicted for corruption. This attorney, according to the FBI, provided 1.1 million in bribes to obtain 24 million in county contracts. the simple fact is our government at all levels is broken badly.

Liberals like you chuck, can't ever countenance bad government as a fact. The reason is simple: to you the government is the solution to everything. So therefore nothing the government does could ever be so bad that it would dissuade you from your core belief in liberal dogma.

so by all means dwell placidly in your firm beliefs. Ignorance is bliss so I suggest you enjoy it. In the meantime those of us better aquainted with reality will face the challenges brought by corruption and ineptitude as we seek to restore some integrity to America's various governing bodies.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | November 23, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Racial profiling? Everybody says yes

Greg, you are wrong


Obama should be impeached on this issue. It is a clear violation of the 4th Amendment.

Posted by: RedNationRising | November 23, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

RedNationRising -

And racial profiling would not be a violation of the 4th Amendment. Got it. Brown people are outside the box.

Posted by: klautsack | November 23, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

I keep wondering if this might actually be a false dilemma. Is ~racial~ profiling what Israeli security people (et al) mean when they talk about profiling in this context? I'm not at all sure it is.

Posted by: CalD | November 23, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

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