Effectiveness of Racial Profiling in Countering Terrorism

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Is Racial Profiling an Effective Counter Terrorism Measure?

The September 11 terror attack on the American soil was followed by a successive wave of events that were aimed at countering terrorism. As the global engagement on terrorism intensified, racial profiling became more pronounced along the corridors of counter-terrorism. Conversely, the employment of racial profiling as an instrument for detecting terror suspects and countering terrorism has elicited sharp criticism from different quarters. Even as protagonists of racial profiling reiterate its effectiveness in combating terrorism, dissenting voices lament the flagrant human rights violations and racial segregations borne of racial profiling. This paper critically examines the issues surrounding racial profiling in order to form a benchmark upon which the effectiveness of racial profiling in countering terrorism can be measured.

The September 11 attacks on the US soil, which was one of the single worst acts of terrorism in the world's history, led to the re-emergence of racial profiling in full force. In a desperate effort to bring to book the perpetrators of these attacks, security agencies in the US developed prejudice on Middle-Easterners. These prejudices were then codified into law including additional security measures for Arabs and Muslims leaving and entering the US territory. It is against this backdrop that racial profiling gained prominence not only in the US but also among its allies. This then raises a very pertinent concern as to whether racial profiling is effective in countering terrorism across the globe.

Security organs more often than not have based detention and interdiction of suspects primarily on the basis of their race, ethnicity and/or religion. Pickering et al argue that racial profiling occurs against the belief that certain minority groups are more likely to engage in unlawful behavior. They further posit that integrating national security into law has opened up the possibility that racial profiling is inevitable in predicting crime and identifying potential perpetrators of crime. Profiling is however problematic in terms of its effectiveness given the fact that it is not firstly correlated statistically to risk. Secondly, racial profiling is ineffective in substantially narrowing down a pool of potential suspects (60). Therefore, profiling of suspects fails to meet professional law enforcement principles but instead reflect prejudice and discrimination.

Nevertheless, the biggest concerns over profiling lie in the invasion of privacy as well as the erosion of fundamental civil liberties. The US has been on the forefront in advocating for the sharing of Passenger Name Records (PNR) information in an effort to single out possible terror suspects. However, this action invariably subjects individuals of particular ethnicities and religions to additional security checks consequently giving leeway to arbitrary discrimination (Muffler 241). What authorities do is basically identify names on the PNR that are Muslim or Arabic in nature. With the perception that Arabs and Muslims are potential terror suspects, they subject bearers of such names to more rigorous security screening. This act does not only discriminate affected individuals but it also produces a large number of false positives.

Pickering et al have ascertained that large numbers of false positives divert resources needed to enhance more productive law enforcement activities. Moreover, false positives draws attention away from real threats and this is welcome news for terrorists. To that respect, racial profiling becomes self-defeating in the sense that it overlooks mainstream target groups thus ignoring the real danger of homegrown non-target terror groups (62). In the recent past, we have had terror attacks instigated by native citizens who have been either inspired by...
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