CAN targeting stop and search powers against people of Asian appearance — sometimes known as racial profiling — ever be justified? Its advocates argue that the terrorist threat comes principally from people from such groups and that it is senseless to search in a random, untargeted way. Nor is there a shortage of precedents: during the Second World War both the US and Britain interned thousands of people with Japanese and German national origins, believing that they were more likely to threaten the state. Targeted stop and search, it is said, is a far less intrusive measure, one that is both justified and proportionate given the challenge that terrorism represents.
This “common sense” approach is objectionable in practice and principle: it is ineffective, as non-Asians can be used for attacks; it is over-broad, including people who, despite appearances, do not belong to racial or religious groups suspected of terrorism, such as Sikhs; the proportion of people involved in terrorism is minute; and it is wrong to stigmatise all by reference to a tiny minority; and targeting causes resentment and disaffection.
Worst of all, targeting is no more than racial discrimination. The principle of equality (whether on grounds of race, sex, orientation, disability or otherwise) is intended to ensure that everyone is entitled to be treated with respect and dignity as individual human beings — with the emphasis on the word individual. Our treatment should depend on what is known about us as individuals, not by reference to supposed characteristics of the race, gender or other groups to which we belong (or appear to belong). [Link]
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