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Profiling

Profiling can be a deceptively innocent word. To some, it means nothing more than someone gathering enough data about you to draw a picture. For example, when you give your medical history at the hospital, the doctor is building a profile that helps her figure out your problem. Your child's teacher gives a series of tests at the beginning of the year to build a profile that helps him know what reading group best fits your child. However, for some people—who have lived under a repressive government—the word profiling is very frightening.

To those people, this powerful word conjures up images of secret police or private investigators covertly following them around, making secret lists of where they go and who they see, and filing that information where those who we don't know can access it. For example, the German government used the census figures from the 1930's and 40's to develop profiles that helped them find folks who might be Jewish. Stalin's government kept profiles of “criminals against the state.” Because of this history, there very few common uses of the word don't make us feel ambivalent about the practice. One use that most of you can approve of is how the FBI uses profiling to help catch dangerous criminals. That's how Clarice Starling catches the killer in The Silence of the Lambs. That's how they found the Son of Sam. You like the good guys to catch the bad guys. But profiling doesn't always ensure the person who fits the profile is a bad guy.


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