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November 26, 2010

Hey Maybe Those Crazy Israelis Are On To Something With Their Airport Profiling System After All

This story qualifies as something I wouldn't expect to see at the top of the Washington Post's website.

Israel has long held the reputation as home to the world's most stringent airport-security procedures. But most passengers aren't frisked, there are no intimately revealing body-imaging scanners, and security experts dismiss as misguided the new, more intrusive American approach that requires pat-downs or highly detailed scans of every passenger.

"Taking the bottle of water from the 87-year old-woman at JFK, you will never find an explosive material that is coming from Bin Laden,'' said Shlomo Harnoy, head of the Sdema Group, an Israeli security consultancy that advises airports abroad. "You are concentrating on the wrong thing.''

Israel's approach allows most travelers to pass through airport security with relative ease. But Israeli personnel do single out small numbers of passengers for extensive searches and screening, based on profiling methods that have so far been rejected in the United States, subjecting Arabs and, in some cases, other foreign nationals to an extensive screening that comes with a steep civil liberties price.

I don't get this idea that invasive screening of some instead of all is a "a steep civil liberties price".

Airline security is about...security, not personal feelings or equality. By doing the faux, 'we're all in it together and are equal threats' thing we are hurting security but not feelings. That doesn't seem to be on point. Yes, that's easy for a pasty white guy like me to say but it's also the truth.

Of course the story goes into the usual tales of woe from Arabs who don't like getting the 3rd degree from Israeli security but so what? We can stack up plenty of similar stories from US airports from people who have zero chance of being a terrorist.

No system is going to be perfect but spreading limited resources thinner in the name of feelings fails on every level...it hurts security and creates resentments.

I'm somewhat skeptical that we can implement the Israeli model here. Aside from the lack of political will, there's simply a question of scale. Only a tiny fraction of people fly to/in Israel compared to the US. I can't find overall numbers for Israel but the main airport, Ben Gurion handles about 11 million passengers. By comparison, JFK in NY handles 45 million. That gives you a sense of scale we're looking at.

One reason we use such ham handed methods is the relative inexpensiveness of the system and the large supply of low skilled workers it takes to run it. Hiring tens of thousands of highly trained and educated profilers isn't going to be cheap or easy.

Overall though, it's good that we are at least beginning to have a discussion about this and not simply accepting the government's, "this is the way it's going to be" approach. Maybe we can't have the Israeli system but perhaps there something between that and the idiocy we are going through now. We'll only find out if we demand it.

National "Opt Out Day" may have been a bust on the ground but the pressure is clearly building to bring some sanity to the airline security.


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posted by DrewM. at 03:35 PM

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