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Members of the Washington, DC Metro Police have been trained by gurus at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in a new form of crimebusting voodoo that purports to help them "profile" the public, and zero in on vibes emanating from bad people.

According to a recent Washington Post article, the police are "targeting people who avoid eye contact, loiter, or appear to be looking around transit stations more than other passengers... Anyone identified as suspicious will be stopped and questioned about what they are doing and where they are going."

"It is effective," Metro spokesperson Lisa Farbstein gushed. She boasted to the Post that "a few pickpockets have been caught over the past six months as officers in uniform and plain clothes have been applying their special observation skills."

One such TSA program, at Boston's Logan International Airport (which has nabbed an unknown number of pickpockets) is currently under challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU is concerned that it could serve as a smokescreen behind which racial profiling can be concealed. It filed a lawsuit in November of 2004.

However, "Logan's behavior recognition program is specifically designed to ensure the protection of everyone's constitutional and civil rights," the Massachusetts Port Authority explained.

Actually, that's probably true, so far as it goes. It's only the preposterous ease with which police can indulge in racial profiling while claiming to have been performing behavior profiling that makes it an issue.

The pretext for introducing the airport scheme into the DC Metro system is to enhance security for the upcoming presidential inauguration, which is imagined to be a tempting occasion for a terrorist attack, or at least a spike in petty crime.

Obviously, the scheme will remain in place long after the inauguration. It is not known at this time whether other city transportation authorities intend to adopt it, but DC's inevitable future claims of roaring success will no doubt provide an inducement for trial programs elsewhere.

At least it makes more sense than face recognition, which has been an expensive and miserable failure. And it's certainly less invasive than the practice of amassing vast databases of people's personal details, and demanding ID at every turn in one's daily life.

Assuming that it's actually effective, the only remaining problem is that abuse will be absurdly easy to conceal. ®

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