Vol. 2, Issue 1, January 6, 2004
Education for the Otiose
Random Perspective

Airport Security Policy Boon to Caricature Artists

With the United States still under high alert for terror attacks, the Bush administration launched a controversial security program Monday requiring foreign travelers arriving in the country by air and sea to be fingerprinted and caricatured.

"It is a very unobtrusive change," said U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. "We're going to ask visitors to leave two digital finger scans, and while they're doing that a quick sketch will be completed by a qualified caricature artist. And all this is in the regular course of processing their visas." Ridge said test-runs of the system show the procedure adds only 15 seconds to a traveler's security checks.

The caricature artists, who have been recruited from carnivals all over the country, are sketching accurate and amusing portraits of each visitor. To save time and improve the efficiency of the process, all the large caricature heads are drawn onto a pre-printed form with a tiny body riding an amusingly diminutive airplane.

"Normally, we'd let the customer pick what they want to be doing in the drawing - you know, playing tennis, riding a surfboard, or whatever," said Caricature Artists Group spokesperson Claire Thompson. "But this is serious business, so we're going with the pre-printed forms."

The system - being launched at 115 U.S. airports and 14 seaports - allows customs agents to instantly check a visitor's background for criminal records in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's data bank using ethnic stereotypology, a new branch of criminal science initiated by the Justice Department following 9/11.

"In general, it's hard to stereotype someone with an automated system," said Ridge. "However, the caricatures exaggerate and emphasize cultural and ethnic features to the point where a digital scanner is able to recognize them. It's truly a marvelous system."

Foreign travelers have expressed dissatisfaction with the new system, claiming it is humiliating, inaccurate and unnecessary.

"That picture doesn't look anything like me," said French traveler Claude Girabel. "I am not wearing a beret or carrying a baguette under my arm; nor am I sneering. It's insulting."

Some nations have threatened retaliatory measures. Brazil has already begun a program requiring all Americans to be caricatured upon arrival, portraying them as cowboys.

"I would not want to second-guess the security program of another sovereign nation," said Ridge in response to the new Brazilian program. "And actually, I think it's kind of flattering to imagine that there's a little cowboy in every American man, woman, and child. It's a vision I think we can all believe in."

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