A terrorist detection program run by the Transportation Security Administration at U.S. airports has resulted in racial profiling and stereotyping that has led to minorities being disproportionately pulled aside for additional searches or security measures.
Although passengers might be expected to make such complaints, TSA screeners have made the allegations against their co-workers.
The program involves training screeners to engage in conversation passengers waiting in line to pass through a checkpoint and then observe their response for unusual behavior such as avoiding eye contact, sweating or fidgeting.
Passengers exhibiting such suspicious conduct can be pulled aside for further questioning or a more thorough search of their luggage or laptop. An expanded version of the program used at 161 airports is being tested at Bostons Logan International.
Some behavior detection officers told the New York Times that pressures by managers to produce results led to targeting minorities with the assumption they would be more likely to result in arrests on other criminal charges. The Times said 32 officers had filed complaints with TSA officials.
They just pull aside anyone who they dont like the way they look if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewelry, or if they are Hispanic, one anonymous officer said.
The practice had become so common that it even caught the attention of the Massachusetts State Police, who wondered why minorities made up most of the suspects. By some estimates, 80 percent of the passengers searched during some shifts were minorities.
One black psychologist and educational consultant was questioned for almost a half-hour while agents went through his cellphone, checkbook and even clinical notes containing confidential information about patients.
The TSA defended behavior detection as an effective means of identifying people engaged in activity that may threaten security, although it bans the use of nationality, race, ethnicity or religion to single out passengers. The agency, though, is investigating the allegations.
Racial profiling and stereotyping are not tolerable. The practices distort the results and effectiveness of the program. The agency should suspend it until it can be reviewed.