The [Inspector General] says that as a result of profiling, there was also a high false-negative rate—investigators were quickly approving certain groups even though they were likely to have engaged in political activity, all because they didn’t fit the profile. This is the Richard Reid scenario: Sometimes, a white guy tries to blow up a plane. Sometimes, two Caucasians blow up a sporting event. If you’re only looking for the brown guys, you’re going to miss those cases. Based on a statistical sample of applications it reviewed, the IG says there were a total of 185 cases that should have been flagged for further review but weren’t. That’s because, instead of looking at those cases, investigators were spending their time looking at groups with “Tea Party” in their names....By profiling Tea Party groups, not only was the IRS applying its rules unfairly, it was also spending a lot of time investigating good guys, and it was letting a few bad guys through without extra scrutiny. If you wanted to make a case against profiling, you couldn’t pick a better example than what happened here.
Manjoo takes the consistent position that profiling on any level is wrong, but he fears that few will be as consistent in their outrage. He expects Republicans and TP types to make a distinction between criminal profiling, which they'll continue to support despite evidence of ineffectiveness, and inherently illegitimate political profiling, which is how they might describe what the IRS was doing. From their perspective, the problem with the IRS wasn't whether or not "profiling" took place, but that any application by a dissident group for tax-exempt status was questioned. Again, the assumption is that dissent should be given the benefit of the doubt, and that anything else amounts to government harassment of dissent. It's arguably the same distinction the IRS official Lois Lerner made the other day, by taking the Fifth, between the official oversight function of a congressional committee and the politically-motivated persecution she assumed the committee chairman to have in mind. When people tasked with enforcing objective rules are not perceived as objective actors, the rule of law takes a hit. I suppose that same argument can be made in defense of profiling, against those who presume that the process is always tainted by bias. The possibility of bias is indisputable, but it's not just the bias of officials that undermines the rule of law. The bad faith of the people at large, the refusal to trust that rules are being or can be enforced objectively, is just as bad -- but the people ought to be able to take care of both problems at once.