If you're sitting in an airport waiting area, and some stranger strikes
up a random conversation, you might want to put on your best smile and answer
cheerfully. According to a USA Today article, that stranger might be a Transportation
Security Administration "screener" looking to single you out as a
terrorist threat. And if you show signs of being nervous, uneasy, or evasive,
you may be deemed worthy of "extra scrutiny" from the TSA, and forced
to undergo further questioning, body searches, and even police interrogation.
The article notes that "airports in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston,
Detroit, and Miami recently began using the technique." This screening
training is not confined to airports, however; other agencies trained in this
behavior detection technique include transit workers in New York and Washington,
U.S. Park Police (Statue of Liberty), and the New York police counterterrorism
bureau. A public safety director at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
is quoted as saying, "I don't want (officers) just sitting there waiting
for a call to come in. I want them observing people, observing their behavior
and engaging them in conversation. They're looking for people whose activities
don't look right."
Meanwhile, the article notes that the American Civil Liberties Union says the
technique leads to racial profiling and has sued to stop a behavior-screening
program run by the Massachusetts State Police at Boston's Logan International
Airport. Barry Steinhardt, a privacy law specialist at the ACLU, is quoted as
declaring, "If you're going to allow police to make searches, question
people, and even make arrests based on criteria rather than actual evidence
of criminality, you're going to have racial profiling."
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