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Does discrimination have to play a part in keeping America safe?

Update: The Obama administration rescinded its policy of mandatory secondary screening for people traveling to the U.S. from 14 countries considered either “state sponsors of terror” or “countries of interest”, a policy hastily introduced after an attempting bombing on Christmas day last year. It now going to focus on intelligence and behavior in subjecting people to secondary screening, no matter which part of the world they come from. Many critics felt the policy was discriminatory, and so while concerns of profiling will continue, there is relief among advocates that it is no longer the official stated policy.

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In a response to the December 25th bomb attempt on Northwest flight 253 to Detroit, the Transportation Security Administration announced a new screening policy that requires “enhanced screening” of passengers flying into the United States from 14 countries considered either “state sponsors of terror” or “countries of interest”. With the exception of Cuba, the rule targets passengers, including U.S. citizens, that are traveling from Muslim-majority or Middle Eastern countries. The additional screening procedures including full body searches, pat-downs, scans and luggage inspections, in addition to the normal processes undertaken at the airport.

Many groups have reacted strongly to the directive, which carries on the pattern of profiling and alienating members of certain communities since 9/11. But the discriminatory rule is also considered an ineffective security measure.

In a briefing aptly called Targeting Needles, or Adding More Hay?,

Jumana Musa from the Rights Working Group pointed out that in the 1990s, when law enforcement began monitoring suspicious behavior instead of profiling based on race, arrests of targeted suspects actually increased even though fewer searches were conducted.

The ACLU shares similar concerns.

Electronic strip-searching of innocent people, racial profiling and bloated, poorly managed terrorist watch lists do not stop terrorist attacks, but they do infringe upon Americans’ rights and waste valuable resources…We must invest our security resources in investigations based upon reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing so we can more effectively identify and stop attackers before they get to any airport.

These strategies are not only smarter but save valuable resources. And they avoid racial and ethnic profiling, an unreliable means of identifying criminal behavior. Similar examples have yielded no results, like the one cited in this advocacy letter.

These new procedures parallel the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System (NSEERS), put into effect shortly after 9/11. Despite tracking at least 83,000 individuals from Middle Eastern and Muslim-majority countries, the NSEERS program did not result in a single terrorism conviction. Neither NSEERS nor the new TSA standards, make us safer because they divert attention and resources away from legitimate leads and identifying suspicious behavior.

But there are other consequences besides profiling. According to the ADC,

During the past decade, similar racial, ethnic and religious profiling tactics and practices have time and again misdirected precious counterterrorism resources, damaged foreign relations with key allies, fueled the fires of extremists by giving them an excuse, stigmatized communities, and most importantly did not have any discernible impact on security. Based on precedent, these new directives will be no different than these past practices and their adverse consequences; and while such directives may appear to make us feel safer, the reality is that they discriminate against innocent persons and divert attention from real threats.

An editorial by Farhana Khera of Muslim Advocates sums it up best,

President Obama has admitted that we didn’t connect the dots in the Abdulmutallab case. Federal authorities overlooked such clues as the alleged bomber’s improper attire for the Detroit winter, purchase of a one-way ticket, the United Kingdom’s rejection of his visa request and his own father’s efforts to alert authorities about his son’s recent extremist tendencies…We shouldn’t focus on what a terrorist looks like, but on what a terrorist acts like.

Photo courtesy of www.tsa.gov

POLL: Is the new TSA guidance an effective way to screen for potential terrorist threats?

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Take action on this historic opportunity to “Restore Fairness” to the Patriot Act

Picture 1On December 31, 2009, three provisions of the Patriot Act expired, creating a perfect opportunity for Congress to examine the Act and its infringement on the rights of U.S. citizens. However the House and Senate rejected an alternative proposal called the JUSTICE Act that would bring in more checks and balances and add long overdue civil liberties protections and instead renewed the expiring provisions for 60 days. Time is running out and so on February 3, 2010, a broad coalition of allies are going to D.C. and they would like you to join them in flooding the halls of Congress in protest of the Act.

Amid the climate of fear and uncertainty that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George Bush signed into law the Patriot Act, expanding the government’s authority to secretly search private records and monitor communications, often without any evidence of wrongdoing. Many believe that the legislation threatened privacy, intellectual freedom, and sanctioned racial profiling. And more than seven years after its implementation, many more believe there is little evidence to demonstrate that the Patriot Act has made America more secure from terrorists.

The provisions that are set to expire relate to roving wiretaps that allow authorities to monitor an individual instead of a particular phone number, a business record provision that allows investigators to seize “any tangible things” deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation, and the “lone wolf” provision that allows authorities to monitor terrorism suspects not connected to any specific foreign terrorist group or foreign government. But there is hope that this moment can be used as an opportunity to amend other parts of the Act. According to the ACLU this must include,

National Security Letters (NSLs): NSLs are secret demand letters issued without judicial review to compel internet service providers, libraries, banks, and credit reporting companies to turn over sensitive information about their customers and patrons.

Material Support Statute: This provision criminalizes providing “material support” to terrorists, regardless of whether they actually or intentionally further terrorist goals or organizations. Intended as a mechanism to starve terrorist organizations of resources, it has actually undermined legitimate humanitarian efforts such as asylum claims and charitable contributions.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act of 2008: Originally passed to allow the government to collect foreign intelligence information, Congress changed the law to permit the government to conduct warrantless and suspicion-less dragnet collection of U.S. residents’ international telephone calls and e-mails in the fight against terrorism.

Even with it cloaked in secrecy, government reports reflect a rapidly increasing level of surveillance and Department of Justice Inspector General reports have revealed misuse of NSL and other aspects of the Act. Moreover, several federal courts have found parts of the Patriot Act unconstitutional.

Add your voice to the demand that Congress uphold the Constitution and protect the rights of its citizens.

Photo courtesy of www.reformthepatriotact.org