Monday, November 29, 2010

A Muslim Speaks Out on the Need for Profiling

Arsa Q. Nomani is a Muslim who is calling for rational profiling at airports. In an article in The Daily Beast entitled, "Airport Security: Let's Profile Muslims," she writes:
In the debate, I said, “Profile me. Profile my family,” because, in my eyes, we in the Muslim community have failed to police ourselves. . .
This is the kind of honesty we need if the Muslim component of Western societies is to become truly a part of Western society. She argues for racial and religious profiling using facts and common sense:
As an American Muslim, I’ve come to recognize, sadly, that there is one common denominator defining those who’ve got their eyes trained on U.S. targets: MANY of them are Muslim—like the Somali-born teenager arrested Friday night for a reported plot to detonate a car bomb at a packed Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in downtown Portland, Oregon. . . .


Boonton said...

"because, in my eyes, we in the Muslim community have failed to police ourselves. . ."

I believe I read that the teenage terrorist wannabe was ratted to the FBI by his father. Likewise the attempted 'crotch bomber' was brought to the attention of law enforcement by his father. The wannabe Times Square bomber seemed to feel that he needed to travel all the way to Pakistan to find Muslims to help him rather than ask any one of the millions of Muslims living in the US. So what more 'policing' is required?

As for profiling. It doesn't work and wouldn't improve anything here.

Boonton said...

Why doesn't it work?

Type I - You think someone isn't 'normal' when he really is.

Type II - You think someone is normal when he really isn't.

Imagine you're at the border of Mexico heading back into the US after a vacation. There's a line of cars and a drug sniffing dog is being walked around them. Let's say out of 100 cars the dog barks at 5 of them and he is always right, the cars he barks always have drugs. Is he 100% perfect? Depends....

Type I yes he is. He never barks at an innocent car.

Type II???? Well let's say out of 100 cars 10 have drugs. In this case he has a pretty high Type II error rate. For every two drug smugglers, he clears one of them as 'normal'.

The system we have has few Type II errors at the expense of a lot of Type I errors. This is because unlike drug smuggling at the border, we really want zero type II errors. We don't want some bombs stopped, we want all of them stopped.

So when people say 'profile' what does that mean? If it means do it on top of what we are already doing....well what's the gain? We already got Type II errors very low if not at zero. There's not much gain there. So all we'd get is raising our Type I error even higher, why does that help?

If they mean do profiling rather than screening everyone....well there's a serious problem there in that you are going to blow Type II errors thru the roof...meaning that terrorists will simply dodge the profile and since everyone is not longer screened once they find someone who doesn't 'look like' a terrorist you've given them a red carpet to bringing down a plane. Today if they find someone who doesn't 'look like' a terrorist, the value to them is less since it's not like being white or a woman or having long term US citizenship let's you walk onto a plane with a few hand guns and a pound of C4 without anyone stopping you.

Boonton said...

And note I haven't said anything about civil liberties or racism. Profiling simply does not work if you've already got your Type II error rate to a min. Let's get real about our ability to successfully profile a terrorist. It's not about who most terrorists are, it's about how many of the 'are's are terrorists. Most terrorists are men. But out of something like 5 billion people in the world, 2.5 billion men the number of random men you have to screen before you find a terrorist is something like 2.5 million. Likewise many terrorists are Muslims but with a billion Muslims it's something like 1 out of a million are terrorists.

Then you get the problem of gaming the profile. OK many terrorists have spent time in places like Yeman, Pakistan, or Afghanistan or were born in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. OK many seem to go to college for engineering. But if this is what you're looking for then that makes a terrorist recruit whose a literature major or was born in Sweden much more valuable. Note how getting a better profile usually means you need more and more successful terrorist attacks. With 'small sample sizes' you can be too easily led to the wrong profile. Does the fact that many of the 9/11 hijackers seemed partial to studying engineering in college mean anything? Or what about the fact that almost all of them seem to be relatively young, never more than 30 or 40? Should 60 yr olds not be profiled? Should women not be in the profile?

As for 'data mining'....look Google has thousands of intimate data points about me....they even read my emails! With all that data and the best brains in the world they still can't serve me a pay per click ad for something I want to buy. Watch all the Bond and Bourne movies you want, the gov't isn't able to pluck the terrorists out of the 'matrix' by scouring the internet and cell phone calls for 'key words' and 'connecting dots'. It can do this in the manner of the 'drug sniffing dog', it can catch a few people who are certainly terrorists but it isn't going to catch all the terrorists like this. You still have the Type II problem.