Saturday, November 20, 2010

Is Tyler Cowen an Exhibitionist?

Judge for yourselves people:

Check out this tweet, and this one, and this one (the last was a re-tweet by TC), and this blog post, and this one too.

When I contacted him for comments before running this story, Tyler said:

"In my view in the long run better scans mean fewer pat-downs!

I would encourage people to start by calculating the "p" that, twenty years from now, the major airlines get nationalized. Work backwards from there and compute the liberty-maximizing policy."

I, on the other hand, would encourage people to calculate the "p" that, twenty years from now we all have microchips implanted in our body that allow the Feds to track all our movements and conversations. Working backwards from there and computing the liberty-maximizing policy might lead to a differing conclusion than does Tyler's thought experiment!


Anonymous said...

Profiling works. It is not the evil racist thing the media would have you believe it is. Look at people. Question people. If they fit the profile then search them.

Anonymous said...

Erm, yeah, it works great if you're not in one of the groups that out profiling heuristics demand extra attention be paid to, and then it only works so long as they keep following the profile. I might trust a well designed computer system, but we humans just aren't as good at picking out dangerous people beyond "He's an Arab". It's not useless or necessarily evil, but neither is it so simple and easy as you make it sound.

Richard Stands said...

There are methods of profiling which aren't necessarily racist, sexist, or ageist. Is this person sweating profusely for no apparent reason? Will he or she not meet your gaze? Is the voice strained and higher pitched? Does he or she actively avoid screening situations (changing lines, etc)? I'm sure there are others.

These could be checked only on high risk routes, and only when the behaviors pop up. It would take better training than just how to doze while facing an x-ray screen and eating a doughnut.

I would summarize this kind of profiling as determining "probable cause". Which reminds me of a phrase which I might start using as a closing signature for a while:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

David M. Shor said...

Behavioral profiling works pretty well. But racial profiling works terribly, just because of Game Theory. Al-Qaeda has members of every ethnicity (Yes, even white people). If you screen one group less then another, then they'll just send somebody from that unscanned group.

The Israeli's learned this in the 70's when the Palestinians got some Japanese communists to breeze through the airport in suits and start killing everyone. They learned it in Lebanon when terrorists started strapping bombs to grandma's, children, and dogs. The equilibrium is uniform scanning, even if the level of scanning is up for debate.

Behavioral scanning might work, and I'm ok with it, but I would remind people that terrorism is too rare for us to test this sort of thing.