German airport boss sparks debate about passenger profiling | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 29.12.2010
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German airport boss sparks debate about passenger profiling

The future president of the German Airport Association has called for checks based on age, sex and ethnicity for "high-risk passengers." But the German justice minister has flatly rejected the idea.

Policeman at Frankfurt airport

Passenger profiling would be partly based on ethnicity

The CEO of Dusseldorf Airport, Christoph Blume, said he wanted to introduce passenger profiling in German airports to fight terrorism. The system would be similar to that used in Israel, where passengers are categorized as high or low risk according to their age, sex, ethnic background and other criteria.

"In this way, the security systems can be more effectively used to benefit all those involved," Blume, who will become president of the German Airport Association (ADV) in January, told the German Newspaper Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

High-risk passengers - those deemed more likely to carry out terrorist or illegal activity, such as organized crime, drug trafficking or espionage - would undergo more stringent security checks. This could mean anything from a bag search to a full body search.

Blume isn't alone in calling for more targeted checks. Current procedures aren't working according to Joerg Handwerg, a pilot for Lufthansa and spokesperson for the pilot's association Cockpit.

"The current controls are foolish, because we waste resources by doing things that feign security but don't actually bring security," Handwerg told Deutsche Welle.

A matter of common sense?

Policeman at airport

The threat of terrorism has led to heightened security at airports

Handwerg suggested that a point system could be employed to determine which passengers might pose a higher security risk, also taking note of where passengers were coming from and travelling to. He said profiling could involve analyzing passenger behavior.

"The Israelis already very successfully do psychological profiling based on asking people where they are going and paying attention to psychological reactions, like if the people become nervous," he said. "In these conversations you can assess whether a passenger should be checked more closely, or if they are unsuspicious."

Handwerg said profiling was a matter of common sense, rejecting the notion that it could be discriminatory.

"Is it justified to check an 80-year-old woman just as intensively as an 18-year-old male passenger?" he asked. "There are differences. That's got nothing to do with discrimination; it's just common sense."

Climate of suspicion

But in Germany, where data protection is highly prized, opposition to collecting personal information about passengers would be a sticking point to introducing profiling.

Critics, such as Martin Kutscha, a professor of constitutional law at the Berlin School of Economics and Law, say that the dangers of profiling are too high a price to pay for greater security.

"Obviously safety is a valuable commodity, but our society will never be 100 percent safe," Kutscha told Deutsche Welle. "You will never catch someone who blows himself up at a market place with this kind of profiling. Safety is important, but not to the extent that you hold everybody under extreme suspicion."

Kutscha said profiling would also be legally problematic, especially since Germany's constitution does not allow ethnic discrimination. He also worried that a climate of suspicion could be damaging for German society, especially with regard to its immigrant population.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger

Justice Minister Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has rejected the proposal

"[Profiling] would feed the fears that exist in society. It's obviously very damaging for a country that depends on immigration, like Germany," Kutscha said.

In comments made to the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper on Wednesday, German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger flatly rejected Blume's proposal, warning of the danger of "stigmatizing passengers, if one differentiates between them according to their origin and religion." She added that she believed passenger profiling would contravene German and European anti-discrimination legislation.

The federal commissioner for data protection, Peter Schaar, also dismissed the suggestion, calling it unreasonable and unsupported in any legal sense.

"Such a procedure would amount to a permanent dragnet," he told the Rheinische Post newspaper.

Author: Natalia Dannenberg
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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