Thursday, November 12, 2009

Profiling: Government Infringement or Useful Tool?

Yesterday's entry on Veteran's Day and the previous entry about the tragedy at Fort Hood morphed into a discussion on profiling. Profiling is "identifying the perpetrator of a crime based on an analysis of crime and the way it was committed" ( Other examples of profiling include predictive and racial. Predictive profiling attempts to construct a framework that identifies people who are likely to commit a crime while racial profiling, the more controversial profiling, bases a framework on consideration of the perpetrator's skin color alone.

In the wake of the rampage at Fort Hood many feel that political correctness is hampering the ability of law enforcement and the intelligence community's ability to establish profiles. While racial profiling gets the most press there is a need for profiling. Robert Clarke proposed a definition of profiling as "a technique whereby a set of characteristics of a particular class of persons is inferred from past experience, and data-holdings are then searched for individuals with a close fit to that set of characteristics" ( The definition proposed by Clarke makes sense as it is applicable not only to law enforcement but to marketers as well.

I recall the adage of learning from history to ensure mistakes of the past are not repeated in the future. The question is how do we as a society, a free society, establish and apply profiles without trampling on the rights of people afforded them by the United States Constitution. A byproduct of our free society is that we must accept the unsavory elements of society's right to assemble and voice their unpopular views. A friend of mine on Facebook commented that, in response to my entry on Fort Hood, by saying that my suggestion of profiling is "McCarthyism at its finest. Anyone that thinks/speaks/acts differently is targeted. And acting in this way would infringe upon several amendments to the constitution, not the least of which is the 1st amendment. It's not illegal to have radical ideas. It's illegal to incite others to violent acts through your words. And given that Hasan was a citizen, he is entitled to all the protections the constitution offers. This is why his communications with the radical Imam were disregarded. And it's the same rights that are afforded [you] and I."

I agree with my friend that the United States Constitution protects radical speech. At the same time I argue the fact that predictive profiling is needed to protect society. Benjamin Franklin quipped; "Those who forego essential liberty for temporary safety deserve neither" was aptly applied to the conversation by the same Facebook friend that raised the issue above. That being said, how do we develop predictive profiles without infringing on the rights of American citizens to assemble, speak, and associate with others without fear of retribution from the government? Or is profiling an affront to the principles our Founding Fathers instilled in the United States Constitution?