Attention passengers.

The US Congress decided that you have no right to report suspicious behavior in airports, because if these passengers exhibit a series of suspicious activities.

Now I agree at no racial profiling. But what about praying loudly in public, acting nervous, asking for seat belt extenders, changing seats to exit rows, and criticizing the government and expressing hatred of America in a foreign language? Is that suspicious?

Nope. If you report the behavior to the airline, and the airline decides that their behavior fits terrorist pattern, and are denied a flight, you can be sue if these passengers happen to belong to a minority group, even if one of those denied a flight attended the same mosque as Mohammed Atta of the 911 hijackers.
No racial profiling indeed.

After all, would you have reported a group of Irish nuns saying the rosary and criticizing Bush and rearranging their seats? And what if one of them turns out to have attended the same church as Timothy McVeighIf you wouldn’t have reported the nuns, and would have reported the Immans, it means you are discriminating on race.

But of course, that might not be true.
The dirty little secret is that profiling by race doesn’t work, but profiling by behavior does work.

Eighty year old easygoing and cheerful Irish nuns aren’t likely to bomb and airplane.

Nervous foreign looking men who pick exit row seats and ask for things that can be used as weapons are suspicious, no matter what their race.

And nervous looking women with one way tickets whose eyes flit back and forth and who mumble about hating the government and who are nervous and sweating and change their seats should be reported even if they are dressed as nuns. (remember: One Russian airliner was bombed by women who met some of these behavioral profiles of a terrorist, but were  allowed to fly anyway).
One might argue the fact that someone makes you feel upset or anxious can not lead to a report. But actually, often these feelings are based on instinct and are a valuable clue to impending violence. Psychiatrists call it “counter transference”. Police call it a gut feeling. Women call it intuition.

Some people planning to do a crime appear scary (Mohammed Atta scared a screener in Maine, but because the screener had no “hard” data he was allowed to go on the flight. Similarly the shoe bomber’s flight was delayed for 24 hours because one of the screeners felt something was wrong about him, but released to fly when no bomb was found).
So the “flying Immans” were not profiled by race alone, but by behavior that upset both fellow passengers and trained airline personnel.
Allowing punishing lawsuits for such reports has a withering effect on public cooperation.
And here I have to side with the right wing blogosphere.

There are certain times we have to encourage reporting of suspicious behavior, or a person’s behavior suggests they might be putting another person in danger.
As a doctor, I have “reported” child abuse based not only on a pattern of injury but on the behavior of those bringing in the child.

Most of these cases were “at risk” children without major injuries. Did my intervention save the child’s lives? I’ll never know. But I don’t regret the reports, even though in at least one case the policeman father swore to “get” the person who reported the abuse. What saved me was that the reports were confidential, and that I could not be punished for making the report if I did so in good faith.

But if no “John Doe” law is passed in Congress, then a passenger seeing people acting suspiciously could very well hesitate reporting it.

But instead of investigating on a case by case basis, we do random checks.

Darn. Lolo set off the alarm again. Check his left pocket for his rosary…sigh, they have to check him head to toe and open all our luggage.

Yup; an 81 year old half deaf World War II veteran has to be checked to show they are “fair” and don’t discriminate.

Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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