Tuesday, January 5, 2010

ACLU Opposes Airport Profiling, Body Scans

The American Civil Liberties Union says that airport profiling and full body scans will attack civil liberties but argues that it won't stop terrorist attacks.

The ACLU's comments follow yesterday's implementation by the TSA of new rules that subject those whose flights originate in or go through 14 specific nations enroute to the United States to enhanced screening. That includes full-body pat downs or body scans.

The ACLU argues that the government should adhere to longstanding standards of individualized suspicion and enact security measures that are the least threatening to civil liberties and are proven to be effective. Racial profiling and untargeted body scanning, the organization argues, do not meet those criteria.

"We should be focusing on evidence-based, targeted and narrowly tailored investigations based on individualized suspicion, which would be both more consistent with our values and more effective than diverting resources to a system of mass suspicion," said Michael German, ACLU national security policy counsel.

"Overbroad policies such as racial profiling and invasive body scanning for all travelers not only violate our rights and values, they also waste valuable resources and divert attention from real threats," German, who is also a former FBI agent, said.

According to the ACLU, the government's plan to subject citizens of certain countries to enhanced screenings is bad policy because there is no way to predict the national origin of a terrorist and many terrorists have come from countries not on the list. For instance, the "shoe bomber" Richard Reid is a British citizen, as were four of the London subway bombers.

"Singling out travelers from a few specified countries for enhanced screening is essentially a pretext for racial profiling, which is ineffective, unconstitutional and violates American values. Empirical studies of terrorists show there is no terrorist profile, and using a profile that doesn't reflect this reality will only divert resources by having government agents target innocent people," said German.

"Profiling can also be counterproductive by undermining community support for government counter-terrorism efforts and creating an injustice that terrorists can exploit to justify further acts of terrorism."

The ACLU also opposes across-the-board implementation of full body scanners. It argues the scanners present serious threats to personal privacy and are of unclear effectiveness.

The civil liberities organization cites an article in the Independent newspaper in the UK which says that British officials who tested the scanners were not persuaded that they would be effective for stopping terrorist threats to planes. And according to security experts, the explosive device used in the attempted attack on a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day would not have been detected by the body scanners.

"We shouldn't complacently surrender our rights for a false sense of security, and we should be very leery of being sold a device presented as a cure-all, especially when the evidence shows just the opposite," German said.

"If scanners and other intrusive procedures are used, it should be with their limitations in mind and only when there is reason to believe that an individual poses an increased risk to flight safety, not as blanket measures applied to millions of innocent travelers."



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