German minister says no to airport profiling

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Germany's justice minister on Wednesday shot down proposals by the incoming head of the country's airports association for Israeli-style passenger profiling to improve security checks.

"Passengers could be stigmatised if they are systematically sorted into different groups based on their origin or religion," Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told the Frankfurter Rundschau daily.

Yakup Tufan, head of the German Council of Muslims, was also unimpressed, telling the Rheinische Post daily it would lead to "discrimination of whole sections of the population" and would in any case be ineffective.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger also said that the proposals, made on Tuesday by Christoph Blume, head of the ADV German Airports Association from January, might fall foul of German and European law.

Blume had said Germany should consider Israeli-style profiling of passengers to improve time-consuming and costly security checks beefed up after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States and other incidents.

"Passengers (in Israel) are put into various risk groups," he told the Rheinische Post daily.

"Safe customers on whom there is sufficient data and who regularly fly the same route are not checked as much as passengers on whom there is little or no data."

Israel's strict airport screening, applied for decades at the country's Ben Gurion international airport and by Israeli airlines abroad, is based in part on the ethnicity of passengers.

It entails assessing the risk posed by a passenger according to nationality, background and behaviour. Israeli security agents consider Arab or Muslim travellers as potentially high threats.

Blume stopped short of talking about profiling in Germany based on factors such as race or religion, however.

His comments also drew criticism from elsewhere, including from the president of the German police union GdP and Wolfgang Bosbach, head of the interior affairs committee in the federal parliament.

"Very good work is already being done at airports today," the Frankfurter Rundschau cited a spokesman for the interior ministry as saying. Security staff already "have their eyes open".

The government's data protection tsar, Peter Schaar, said that profiling would be unconstitutional and would fail to reduce the danger of attacks or to speed up security checks.

"Terrorists don't walk around with turbans on," he told public broadcaster WDR. "People won't know which group they will be sorted into ... In Israel everyone has to arrive at the airport three hours before take-off."

Others liked the idea, however, with the head of another police union, Rainer Wendt of the DPolG, said that "all available instruments were needed to tackle the growing terror threat."

"Profiling has proved its worth abroad," Wendt said.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently proposed a similar strategy under which passengers would be screened to a degree linked to the amount known about them.

The idea is to be debated among IATA members next year.

In November, British Home Secretary Theresa May announced plans to introduce tougher vetting for passengers booking from potentially hostile countries or who pay for their tickets in cash.

© 2010 AFP

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