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US Sikhs launch app to report racial profiling at airports

December 04, 2013 12:33 IST

The Sikh Coalition released an updated version of FlyRights, an app intended to report racial profiling at airports to the relevant authorities, November 26.

While the first version, released April 2002, only reported complaints to the transportation security administration and the department of homeland security, the current version also allows users to report the matter to their members of Congress and compare airports to see which tend to be more discriminatory.

Speaking at a press conference to announce the app, Wade Henderson, president and chief executive officer, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, focused on racial profiling.

He described it “as an insidious and pervasive problem’ that was ‘antithetical to the founding principle in the Declaration of Independence that all men are equal.”

While the department of homeland security reported 20 complaints against the TSA in 2011 and 9 in 2012, the Sikh Coalition said 157 complaints were filed through the app in 2012.

Though the Sikh Coalition helped put the app together, it was not meant to be limited to them, says Rajdeep Singh, director, law and policy, Sikh Coalition.

He pointed out that there were more complaints likely to show up, given the hundreds of millions of people traveling by air every year.

“What we’re learning through FlyRights makes us think it’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said, adding that it was important to underscore that FlyRights was delivering official complaints.

He said the app should be able to hold the TSA and DHS more accountable. Singh said it also protected more than just one community.

“We didn’t just design this app for the Sikh community or the South Asians, but for anyone,” he said, adding that this was evident in the partners the Sikh Coalition had when releasing FlyRights 2.0.

These included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund.

“For Sikhs, it is almost universally a bad situation,” he said, adding that secondary screening rates for them were significant.

“A lot of people in different communities have an anecdotal sense that something is wrong. But if policy is to change we need hard data. FlyRights is a step in the right direction,” Singh said.

According to the coalition, the complaints involve discrimination on the basis of race (58 complaints, or 29 per cent), ethnicity (47 complaints, or 24 per cent), nationality (16 complaints, or 16 per cent) and disability (17 complaints, or 9 per cent), with some of them falling in more than one category.

The Coalition sees the app as a way to ensure transparency, given that the TSA officially tells its screeners not to profile people while not taking steps to monitor and control such behavior.

Singh cited the results of Freedom of Information Act requests the Sikh Coalition’s pro bono counsel Covington and Burling had procured, showing that that the TSA certainly had the capacity to audit cases of profiling if it wished to.

Image: Members from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, South Asian Americans Leading Together, American Civil Liberties Union, and Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund at the launch of the app.

P Rajendran