UT professor says profiling not effective against terror

Allison Kroll


Racial profiling is a “fundamentally flawed” method of catching terrorists, and is no more effective than random sampling techniques, according to a recent study by a UT computer science professor.

William Press addressed the weaknesses of racial profiling as a means to identify terrorists in his Nov. 18 article, “To Catch a Terrorist: Can Ethnic Profiling Work?” published in Significance, the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society and American Statistical Association.

According to Press’ study, racial profiling is dependent on the idea that specific ethnic or racial groups are more likely to commit criminal acts than other groups. Press took a mathematical and statistical view on the process and compared it to the effectivness of random sampling techniques.

No racial profiling strategy is actually any more effective at catching terrorists than random sampling, he said. In fact, Press writes, uniform sampling works surprisingly well. Because, according to the article, “It is robust against false assumptions, it is a deterrent, it is easy to implement, it is about as effective as any real-life system can be.”

“The most basic idea behind it being a faulty approach is that it’s based on stereotypes and over-generalizations about specific groups of people,” said Germine Awad, an assistant educational psychology professor. “We as human beings are not always accurate at predicting racial categories for certain individuals.”

Racial profiling is problematic because it’s based on stereotypes that aren’t normally accurate, and innocent people can be harassed in some cases because of these stereotypes, Awad said.

“You’re angering people who are innocent, and can be driven to have less faith in their government in terms of protecting them,” she said. “This could cause anger toward the establishment for initiating the racial profiling.”

Assistant sociology professor Simone Browne said she agrees that racial profiling may not be the most effective deterrent for terrorists.

“It’s awful because these security measures that screen for objects instead of behavior almost always go back to racial practices, which are inherently unethical,” Brown said, “Customs officers are human, and airports are not outside of the condition we live where racial profiling is practiced.”