Racial profiling to combat terrorism

Concerns have been raised about the use and development of ethnic profiling systems as a means to combat terrorism.

Jun 28, 2007
By David Howell
John Boyd

Civil liberties and privacy experts have voiced their misgivings about how this technology could develop in the future if it not policed correctly.

Ethnic profiling has moved to become a priority for America and many EU member states, especially as the US is continuing to push for the transatlantic exchange of ­passenger name records for all ­airline travel into the US.

The temporary agreement in place expires at the end of next month and must be replaced with a binding treaty if it is to continue.

The US has continued to reiterate what it intends to do with the ­passenger records once they arrive in the US, but civil liberties groups and the European Parliament remain suspicious of the US ­Government’s motives in obtaining this personal data.

The move to use passenger lists as a means to identify ethnic groups will also be joined by new systems that will link more EU member states together to create large databases of personal information that will be exchanged between EU members and possibly the US as well.

Interpol, for instance, will soon move to become an EU agency whose database will be linked to all 27 EU member states.

Eurojust, the EU’s judicial cooperation unit already has an agreement with the US to exchange information on live police cases.

The inclusion of passenger details would seem an inevitable addition to this exchange of ­information.

Other developments in how Europe collects and distributes data on its citizens are also coming online shortly.

The Schengen Information ­System, which allows visa-free ­circulation of people in Europe, is being updated to include biometric identifiers by 2008. A year later, the EU Data Retention Directive will give member states access to the connection data of mobile phones and the Internet regarding suspicious users of these technologies.

Clearly, with the increased use of biometric technology, the ethnic ­origin of a passport or ID card holder can be captured. Many view this as being counterproductive to the fight against crime and terrorism.

Systems that can track a person across Europe are available, but what impact any racial profiling will have has yet to be seen as many of the systems that can carry this data have yet to go live.

Whether these systems will be transparent via legislation that will ensure privacy remains to be seen. But we have yet to see any laws that forbid ethnic profiling on law enforcement and border security systems.

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