“Sworn to uphold and protect…”

The 4th amendment reads:

“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.”

Cops looking at a black guy's underpants

Cops looking at a black guy’s underpants (source)

I’m not a constitutional scholar, but – seriously – if cops want to look down someone’s underpants, what about “secure in their persons” and “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause..” does not apply here?

Let me guess: “he’s just lucky they didn’t shoot him.” But that’s not anywhere in the constitution that I’ve seen. Maybe it’s in one of those parts that the govermnent tore out and wiped its ass with.

People who argue social contractarian positions might argue that putting up with a bit of this kind of thing is the price you pay for existing in a modern civilization. A utilitarian might argue that it’s necessary in some moral calculus, that we treat a class of people as potentially hostile, and treat them more circumspectly.* I withhold judgement on those views, but I’d observe that if the premise is that certain classes of people are subject to more surveillance because of their potential threat, then we should have “stop and frisk” of corporate executives, congresspeople/representatives, everyone who carries a weapon on behalf of the people: cops, FBI, military, and (ironically) everyone who is implementing surveillance over the rest of the population. There’s an endless tail recursion problem with watching all the watchers, but – clearly – since a watcher has been granted extraordinary powers, they are more important to watch than the rest of the population.


(* Sam Harris might say something that stupid, ignoring the problem of accurately identifying a class of people. How do you do that?)


  1. says

    Jessie Foster@#1:
    More specifically, I argue that we should anti-profile


    We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.


    But there are people who do not stand a chance of being jihadists, and TSA screeners can know this at a glance.


    At a minimum, wouldn’t they want a system that anti-profiles—applying the minimum of attention to people who obviously pose no threat

    He winds with:

    Many readers found this blog post stunning for its lack of sensitivity.

    When Bruce Schneier handed him a bunch of clues on this topic, Harris steadfastly refused to let them sink in, in the slightest. The problem is that there are relatively few people who “do not stand a chance of being jihadists” – and when you create a defined class that’s exempted from examination, you publish a template for how to penetrate the system. Anyone who has thought about security more than cursorily understands that immediately; Harris just can’t seem to admit he’s wrong.

    What does “obviously pose no threat” mean? Granny from Dubuque? Well, then if we know grannies from Dubuque get a pass, then that’s what any sensible terrorist will look like.

    Many readers find Harris’ argument stunning for its utter incomprehension of security. I don’t give a shit about whether people are sensitive about it, or not (because I’m privileged) as a security practitioner I give a shit that someone ignorant about security, as Harris clearly is, continues to pass up good opportunities to learn a bit about it and understand it better.


    Here’s another correlation, perhaps easier to understand. Pilots have long complained about being subjected to the same security as everyone else. They can crash the planes, for heaven’s sake. It’s just common sense. But you can’t actually sort on “being a pilot” at a security checkpoint; you have to sort on “wearing a pilot’s uniform” or “carrying a valid pilot ID.” So now the question becomes whether it makes sense to develop an unforgeable pilot ID, train TSA screeners in how to recognize that ID, and develop a separate set of screening procedures for people with that ID — or simply screen pilots like everyone else and ignore their whining. And this is where the analysis starts.

    Your intuition on the efficacy of an airport profiling system is wrong. The psychology of security is complex, and there is a great deal of of research about how our brains systematically get security decisions wrong. This is an example of that. Profiling at airports gives us less security at greater cost.

    I’m not quoting Schneier because he’s an authority, by the way. I quote Schneier because – as a security expert who has known Bruce for a long time, debated with him for years, and who also understands airport security: Bruce is right.

  2. Siobhan says

    Let me guess: “he’s just lucky they didn’t shoot him.” But that’s not anywhere in the constitution that I’ve seen.

    That’s the oft-overlooked 20th Amendment: If a white dude says it’s not a problem, it’s not a problem.

  3. says

    Jessie Foster:
    You’ll notice that what I said was:
    Sam Harris might say something that stupid, ignoring the problem of accurately identifying a class of people

    The problem is: accurately identifying a class of people. It remains the problem. Anti-profiling, profiling, whatever, you still have the problem of accurately identifying a class of people.

    Harris, when called on his bullshit, immediately tries to change the subject to behavioral profiling which can work.

    Apparently, you intend to repeat Harris’ embarrassing mistakes? Please don’t. You’ll fit my profile for “annoying and tedious” if you do that, and based on your behavioral profile you may be subject to restrictions and additional searches.

  4. says

    If a white dude says it’s not a problem, it’s not a problem

    Unless a white dude says it’s a problem, in which case it’s a problem. You know, black on black crime? Now that is a problem.

  5. tbtabby says

    The problem with profiling isn’t just innocent people fitting the profile, but guilty people who don’t. Police profiling only black people wouldn’t catch Dylan Roof. Profiling only Muslims or people who “look Muslim*” wouldn’t have caught Jerad and Amanda Miller. And even if the profiling did start to catch Islamic terrorists, don’t you they would adapt to the circumstances, changing their appearance so they don’t fit the profile and thus aren’t searched? To paraphrase Sir Pterry, if everyone knows the ways to spot a Jihadist, then the Jihadists know them too.

    *If “Islam isn’t a race, therefore Islamophobia isn’t racism,” why are you so sure you can tell who the Muslims are just by looking?

  6. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    The concepts ‘false positive’ and ‘false negative’ are basic estimation theory, but they sound too sciencey for a typical populist.

  7. says

    Jessie Foster@#16:
    Whether I’m answering a question or disagreeing with an implicit assertion doesn’t really matter in this instance.

    Yeah, but you tried to claim your tediousness was in service of answering a question. And now you just refuted that by pointing out (which I already know) that you intend to be tedious no matter what I said.

    You’ve absorbed Sam Harris’ style of dialectic, I see. It goes something like this:
    Harris: (says something wrong)
    Other person: “No, that’s wrong, here’s why: (reasons)”
    Harris: “Yeah, but I’m right.”
    Other person: “No (reasons)”
    Harris: “Yeah, but I’m right.”

    You’ve made your point, such as it is, and are now becoming tedious. You may want to check this blog’s commenting policy, which says (among other things):

    If you are tedious or annoying I reserve the right to delete all of your comments. So if you think you’re going to simply argue for “last person left standing” through boredom, you may find all your hard work winds up in the wastebasket.

  8. says

    Jessie Foster@#17:
    Do you disagree with the idea of college consent classes which teach men not to rape?

    Do not turn this thread into a discussion about something utterly irrelevant. Go do that elsewhere.

    [You are now in comment moderation. If you post something and it doesn’t appear, don’t double post it. It may or may not appear later.]

  9. Saad says


    Jessie Foster is a run of the mill Harrisite. I wouldn’t waste my time.

    Here’s a little gem from a thread at PZ’s they contaminated a while back:

    I think that Harris’ main point is that little old ladies aren’t likely to be suicide bombers (and vice versa), and we should proportion our limited security resources with this in mind.

    It’s sort of analogous to college classes on sexual consent which “teach men not to rape.” These classes profile men. That’s because, although most men are not rapists, the vast majority of rapists are men. It doesn’t make sense to spend an equal amount of time “teaching women not to rape.”

  10. Devocate says

    “People who argue social contractarian positions might argue that putting up with a bit of this kind of thing is the price you pay for existing in a modern civilization.”

    Thus implying that ‘modern civilization’ is more dangerous than the civilization that existed at the time the constitution was written. Since this is demonstrably false, where are they left?

  11. says

    the time the constitution was written

    I wasn’t talking about the constitution. There are plenty of people out there who argue that the legitimacy of the state derives from a social contract. They are sometimes referred to as “contractarians.”

    I am not a contractarian, so I really am not interested in defending that position because I’d hardly do it justice. (I am unconvinced of the legitimacy of any state, at this time)

  12. says

    Yeah. It’s probably a devastatingly clever argument. (eyeroll) Too bad I’m too narrow-minded to want to wade through it.

    I’ve learned something from this: mentioning Sam Harris is probably a bad idea, in general, if you wish to avoid the tedium of dealing with Harris’ weak arguments and derails.

  13. says

    Jessie Foster@#23:
    Why is it bullshit?

    It’s bullshit because it’s drawing a false equivalence. You’re trying to equivocate educating people with violating their constitutional rights. That is why I originally tried to deflect that line of reasoning; it’s weak and stupid and you ought to be embarrassed to deploy it.

    With respect to the “you’re just buzzwording…” argument against Saad, I’d say it was more that they were categorizing your argument. As I noted earlier, your argumentation style does appear similar to Harris’: obtuseness coupled with extreme tenacity and a hint of indignation. I’m not over-fond of the use of labels for vague concepts but, because of the problems with language, they’re all we’ve got, sometimes. As you can see, my using “contractarian” above, as a shorthand, provoked confusion. It’s tough.

    “Bullshit” is probably too simple a description of your argument. “Ill-founded and off the point” is less terse but more accurate.

    Another point: when arguing about X, why not argue about X in its own terms, without resorting to an argument about Y? The only strategic reason someone would do that, unless they were trying to reduce a proposition in to formal logic, was to manipulate the argument slightly in the process of reformulating it. That’s why I said it was “utterly irrelevant.”

    [The probability that any further comments from you will go through is very low]

  14. Saad says

    Another thing that makes someone a Harrisite is them calmly and “rationally” saying how ethnic profiling of POC isn’t that bad. It is effectively an argument for second-class citizen status for brown men.

    So, no. Harrisite is nothing like SJW or cuck. It’s more like dudebro: a perfectly useful and informative word.

  15. says

    Jessie Foster decided to play the complain-about-privileged-white-male-authors-silencing-his-important-speech freethought-blogs-is-not-free you-play-to-an-echo-chamber ploy, so I’ve deleted all of his comments. That should vindicate his sense of oppression.

    Jessie: I don’t at all mind people who disagree with me. In fact, I love it. What I mind is people who are tedious about it, refuse to listen when multiple people point out the flaws in their arguments, and who then fail over to whining about free speech. You are correct, this is not a free speech zone; it’s more like a dinner party and I am the host of these good people. If one guest at a dinner party becomes annoying, it’s the host’s duty to get them out the door.

  16. Dunc says

    mentioning Sam Harris is probably a bad idea

    Yeah, it’s kinda like the bat signal, but for tedious assholes.

  17. inquisitiveraven says

    Harris, when called on his bullshit, immediately tries to change the subject to behavioral profiling which can work.

    Actually, if the transcript of an interview between him and Schneier that I once read is any indication, Harris doesn’t acknowledge that there’s a difference between the two. Certainly the bozo who linked to it in a Pharyngula comment thread didn’t because he claimed that the interview in question showed that Schneier agreed that racial profiling was sometimes useful.

    Summary of interview:

    Harris: Racial profiling is the only way to keep air travel safe.

    Schneier: That doesn’t work. You can profile based on people’s behavior and that sometimes works. So, what are your criteria for keeping someone off a plane?

    Harris: [Ducks and weaves, i.e. equivocates the two kinds of profiling]

    Schneier: That doesn’t answer my question. What are your profiling criteria?

    (Repeat the last two lines, multiple times)

    I don’t know if it went on for the rest of the interview because I got bored and closed the tab after a few rounds of Harris equivocating and Schneier trying to pin him down.