World of India!: On security checks using racial profiles e

World of India!

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On security checks using racial profiles

My mother-in-law seemed quite happy over dinner a few days ago. A wealthy widow has bequeathed a substantial sum to the NGO she runs and her barrister wanted to transfer the cash, she informed me. Her only problem was the Barrister wished to transfer the foreign currency, by courier and that would be an offence under FEMA. I asked her for the print out of the email and read it. I then had to break her heart by informing her that this was a email scam and the man was just trying to fleece her. Reading the language in the email and having received several scam emails from Nigeria earlier, I said, " probably a Nigerian guy living in London..". Was I stereotyping an entire nation and profiling all Nigerians as fraudsters?

I am looking back at this incident which happened but a few days ago, after reading that a Nigerian minister has protested that British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are insulting Nigerians and treating them with utmost contempt, when they travel on their airlines, during check-in procedures.

Perhaps. I do not know the exact details behind the accusation except what has appeared in print.But at the same time it is also a fact that Nigerian fraudsters and criminals are active almost throughout the world, in various criminal activities, especially in what is now known as the 419 crime or Nigerian email scam.

This email scam has spread its tentacles, thanks to the reach of the Internet, so far and wide across the globe, that this one scam alone has imprinted Nigerians with the stamp of criminal behaviour, in the minds and files of Police Depts. across the world. Matters are not helped by the fact that many Nigerians have emigrated from their country and live a difficult life in their chosen country and some of these individuals take to crime. In India, for instance, many Nigerians are known to be active in drug peddling, in many big cities in India.

Neither the 419 email/postal scam (named, incidentally, after a penal code in Nigeria) nor drug peddling is the exclusive preserve of Nigerians, but the bitter truth is that, the proportion of Nigerians involved has been found to be on a higher side. A contributory factor is the rampant corruption in evidence in Nigeria, which allows criminals to go scot free, despite police from various countries trying to solicit co-operation from Nigerian authorities.

Given this body of knowledge, and given the statistics of Nigerians apprehended and convicted in foreign countries of many serious crimes, including drug peddling, would you support the airlines that take extra precautions by checking Nigerians, more rigorously ?

Take another example. It is well accepted that terrorism is a global phenomena and terrorists belong to different religions. At the same time, it is a incontrovertible fact that Muslim terrorists and their attacks are the dominant feature of terrorist phenomena worldwide, not just in terms of their reach, but also in terms of sheer numbers. According to statistics of the National Counterterrorism Center, a national government organization of the United States, Islamic extremism was responsible for approximately 57% of terrorist fatalities and 61% of woundings in 2004 and early 2005, where a terrorist perpetrator could be specified.

Give this knowledge, if a police officer (belonging to whichever religion, himself), be more on guard when a Muslim passenger comes for a security check at an airport, would you understand it as a necessary precaution or would you term it as discriminatory?When the Khalistan movement was at its peak, was it not natural for security personnel to be more on guard when checking Sikhs? After all Khalistanis did not have members belonging to the Muslim religion, as far as I know !

All security screening techniques have to necessarily incorporate forming 'profiles' and profiling as a technique necessarily has to depend on information (often historical) and its analysis, which isolates distinguishing characteristics and patterns, of the criminal or criminal behaviour. These characteristics might be pertaining to looks, income, psychological make-up, socio-political dogma or - religion,race. But unless this analysis is performed, profiling is impossible and without profiling, looking for criminals would be like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Does this make me less angry when I was frisked more stringently than normal at various international airports? No. But can one understand the rationale' behind it and accept it as inevitable and even necessay? Definitely.


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