Sunday, May 13, 2007

Facial recognition & racial profiling

Once in a blue moon, when Jupiter aligns with Mars, we are treated to the concurrent release of two closely-related news stories:

- Facial Recognition technology to be deployed by Homeland Security

- Muslims sue their fellow air travelers for finding them “suspicious”

The melding of these stories is a fascinating, timely and classic issue, especially in-light of the new-age sensitivities of some Americans. Imus was fired for making an offensive observation about the physical appearance of lady basketball players, and today, people are super-sensitive about being politically correct, and they struggle with their "weird-radar".

The Average American’s weirdness sensitivity is especially high when traveling, and some folks find foreigners mannerisms to be “suspicious”, especially when you are the secured area of an airport.

The Muslim lawsuit news report notes:

“When you drive up the road towards the airport, there's a big road sign that says, `Report suspicious behavior,'" said Gerry Nolting, a Minneapolis lawyer. "There's no disclaimer that adds, `But beware if you do that, you might get sued.'"

The six imams were taken off a Phoenix-bound US Airways flight on Nov. 20 while returning home from a conference of Islamic clerics in Minneapolis.

Other passengers had gotten nervous when the men were seen praying and chanting in Arabic as they waited to board.

Some passengers also said that the men spoke of Saddam Hussein and cursed the United States; that they requested seat belt extenders with heavy buckles and stowed them under their seats; that they were moving about and conferring with each other during boarding; and that they sat separately in seats scattered through the cabin.”

Racist or Common Sense?

I had a similar experience in the Miami airport. Returning from an overseas trip, we were changing planes, and we witnessed two gentlemen with black scraggly beards dressed in expensive suits. About 20 minutes before boarding, they opened-up their carry-on luggage and pull colorful robes over their suits! Then, they put-on one of those little red beanies like the Pope wears, and strapped little square thingies onto their foreheads.

Finally, they clutched a pair of small books and start chanting and praying with a fervor like it was their last moment on earth. About this time, several people dashed to the counter to see about getting on a later flight. . . . The central question is “Were these people being racist, or were they just using common sense”?

Facial Recognition – Is finding people who look like terrorists a racist act?

The new Facial Recognition technology scans for similarities in facial characteristics, and the use of this tool to identify folks who “look like” terrorists seems like a great idea. Check-out this link to some facial recognition software on the web.

Would the intelligent use of facial recognition technology enable Homeland security to conduct in evil “racial profiling”? When seeking illegal immigrants in an airport, is it racist to single-out people who look like Mexican farm workers?

Evidently, some passengers judged the behavior of the Muslim group to be suspicious and they complained to the airline, which responded by banning the Muslim group from the flight. In a nutshell, the Muslims legal claim is that they were reported for simply acting like normal devout Muslims and that their fellow passengers are just a bunch of KKK racists.

Me, I strongly believe in TSA reform, to cut-down on the “Barney Phyfe” terminal Nazi’s:

These are some of the dumbest people I’ve ever seen, and the TSA recruiting ads should look like this.

On the other hand, how do we deal with the “waste” when TSA people are forced to screen randomly, regardless of whether someone “looks like” a potential terrorist? Screening old folks like this is just a stupid waste of time: