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October 01, 2015

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confused by your post

There is a lot going on in this post Professor Redding. It is interesting to see how your life is impacted by the interplay between security and oppression that goes on in every international airport now. From you description it appears the US could lighten up on the oppression side and still achieve the same security results. No German Shepherds in public view. No impolite CBP agents. These items would seem to be modest but concrete improvements that should be made to US travel security.

I like reading about your personal experiences and thoughts on racial profiling and racism here as well. Keep it up.

In the interest of furthering a healthy discussion here related to your post I would like to share a few.

Racial profiling for security purposes in the context of international travel is very widely practiced all over the world. I believe it is a useful tool in maintain maintaining security. Do not read this as a blanket endorsement of all racial profiling in the international travel context as practiced by the US. It is not. The question is how much "oppression" in the form of racial profiling should be allowed in such travel context. The question does assume racial profiling yields a security benefit. Some would answer the question with "none" for various reasons such as:

racial profiling international travelers

(a) does not really aid security,
(b) is morally wrong,
(c) violates various laws, or
(d) creates real animosity in those profiled and sometimes also in other governments.

Others would answer that question with "a lot" because they disagree with (a)-(d) above. Many are pragmatic and believe what is OK regarding international travel profiling varies with the level of threat to security.

You've been kind enough to share some anecdotes touching on the topic so it would be interesting to hear some of your thoughts on racial profiling in international travel.

Doug Richmond

No CBP officer should be unnecessarily rude to anyone, and all of us who travel regularly find much to dislike about related security issues, but I am otherwise puzzled by this post. How is the use of dogs that are able to sniff out explosives and drugs in the fashion you describe offensive? Did you really think you could go to Pakistan (or Syria, or Afghanistan or any other country raising legitimate terrorism concerns) and not be questioned about the purpose of your travels? Heck, I get questioned about the purpose of my visits by border security officers at every country I visit. And was the CBP officer a homophobe or simply disconcertingly inattentive? Regardless, your claim that you were being "victimized" by your government is more than a stretch.

Jeff Redding

Doug: Well, we have some consensus. But I can't do all the work here, so I'll leave it to you to investigate the use of dogs against African-Americans in this country and also religious sensibilities around them. NB: My understanding is that pigs have better noses than even German Shepards, but they aren't used in airports (so far as I know, but I will not rule it out of the realm of CBP possibility) for obvious cultural and religious issues.

Pakistan is not Syria or Afghanistan. Please, here and elsewhere (and for any other commentators), let's at a minimum be able to draw distinctions. And I mean that with all deference and respect, to Syria and Afghanistan, and the plight of Syrians and Afghans.

Doug Richmond

The use of dogs against African Americans in this country by police is deplorable, but it cannot be the case that our unfortunate history prevents the use of dogs in law enforcement today to sniff out drugs or explosives. By your logic, because police officers have unjustifiably shot minorities, and have done so repeatedly, we should disarm all police officers.

I am aware that Afghanistan and Syria are different countries than Pakistan, and that they and their people are not interchangeable on all sorts of levels. At the same time, whether you agree or not, all three nations are viewed by the U.S. government as countries in which terrorists operate and from which they export violence. Are you really saying that there are not elements Pakistan who view the U.S. as an enemy? Do you really not think that there are groups in Pakistan that are sponsoring terrorism in some fashion? Including, it might be said, the Pakistani security apparatus? What about Syria, where ISIS operates? Afghanistan? That does not condemn all citizens of these countries, of course, nor does it mean that there is not incalculable suffering there--most obviously in Syria at the moment--but it does mean that the U.S. government has legitimate security concerns when it comes to who travels to and from those countries.

Jeff Redding

Doug: I am pretty confident that this is more about 'security theater,' 'intelligence' gathering, and intimidation than about any real concern with security. After all, by the time one has arrived at Secondary Review, one has already passed through many layers of security--including in the Indian and Pakistani airport contexts, physical pat-downs at least twice--and one has also been admitted into and passed through U.S. passport control. (The passport inspection officer refers a person to Secondary Review.) If you go through my previous posts in this series as well, you'll see that I and others had also already gone through *U.S.* Secondary Review in the Abu Dhabi airport. So, yes, I do think this is ridiculous. And Shah Rukh Khan does too: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-17699074. Finally, in the upcoming segments in this series, I'll relate (multiple) experiences in which all my baggage was gone through with, in one instance, a U.S. CBP officer personally telling me "This [procedure] is a waste of my time."

Doug Richmond

Or maybe the CBP encounters that have frustrated you demonstrate inefficiency or incompetence or both (security theater fits somewhere in there) rather than racism or homophobia as you originally claimed.

Douglas Levene

I recently flew into Hong Kong airport and took a dual-plate van to Shenzhen. At the PRC border crossing, our van was pulled out line, and my wife and I were directed to pull all our luggage out to be searched. Then the van was sent off to be x-rayed and we were left on the curb with no means of transport. (Our driver's boss eventually came and rescued us.) Why did this happen? Was I targeted for some reason? Who knows? Customs and immigration people never explain why they do what they do and in this case I wouldn't have understood if they did explain. (I won't go into the time back when I was in college when I was strip searched coming back into the US from Japan.)

Just Another Practicing Attorney

"I am pretty confident that this is more about 'security theater,' 'intelligence' gathering, and intimidation than about any real concern with security."

I don't know about intelligence gathering, but a real concern with security is not at all inconsistent with security theater and intimidation. The goal of most security systems is not to catch the bad guy but to deter him, which means showcasing the strength of the defense in sometimes ostentatious and intimidating ways.

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