Germany airport profiling call rejected by minister

Israeli airport staff check a passenger's luggage at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv (file image from 13 December)
Image caption Israel uses psychological profiling as part of its security checks

The incoming head of Germany's airport industry association has called for Israeli-style passenger profiling to be introduced.

Christoph Blume said that grouping passengers into different categories of risk could put an end to the ever-growing number of security checks.

Detection equipment would, he argued, "at some point... reach its technological and operating limits".

But the country's justice minister said there was a risk of stigmatisation.

Germany's largest police trade union was also sceptical, saying the policing of EU borders was very different to that of a small state like Israel.

The call by Mr Blume, who is chief executive of Duesseldorf airport, echoes a proposal outlined recently by Giovanni Bisignani, director general of the airline carrier association IATA.

"We must shift the screening focus from looking for bad objects to finding terrorists," Mr Bisignani said in November.

"To do this effectively, we need intelligence and technology at the checkpoint."

In November, Germany tightened its airport security in the light of what it described as "concrete indications" of terrorist attacks being planned.

In the past year, there has been a string of suspected attempts to bomb planes, including the Detroit plot in which a man was accused of trying to blow up a plane with explosives hidden in his underwear. In October, two unexploded parcel bombs were found on cargo planes bound for the US.

'Resources wasted'

"Every new incident leads to further controls and security measures," Mr Blume told Germany's Rheinische Post newspaper.

"This results in a race to upgrade equipment that at some point will reach its technological and operating limits."

He advocated a system similar to that used in Israel, where passengers are categorised as high or low risk according to their age, sex, ethnic background and other criteria.

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

"This way [through profiling], control systems could be more effectively employed for the well-being of all participants," the new head of Germany's airport industry association ADV said.

Joerg Handwerg, a pilot for Lufthansa and spokesperson for the German pilots' association Cockpit, told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that current security procedures were not working and profiling was common sense.

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

Mr Handwerg suggested a points system could be employed to determine which passengers might pose a higher security risk.

"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."

'Feeding fears'

Speaking to the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger warned of the danger of "stigmatising passengers, if one differentiates between them according to their origin and religion".

Passenger profiling, she said, could contravene German and European anti-discrimination legislation.

A police trade union spokesman said the practice could not simply be transplanted from Israel to Germany, where borders are far more loosely controlled due to the Schengen borderless travel zone.

"No one actually knows how exactly the Israelis even profile," he added,

Germany's 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.

Martin Kutscha, a professor of constitutional law at the Berlin School of Economics and Law, said that the dangers of profiling were too high a price to pay for greater security.

"Obviously safety is a valuable commodity, but our society will never be 100% safe," he told Deutsche Welle.

"[Profiling] would feed the fears that exist in society," Mr Kutscha argued.

"It's obviously very damaging for a country that depends on immigration, like Germany."

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