Today’s U.S. airport security policy rests on a fallacious proposition. By applying equal screening resources to all passengers and all bags, the system acts as if security officials believe that every passenger and every bag is equally likely to be a threat. This premise wastes limited security resources on low-risk passengers and bags, thereby devoting less resources to higher-risk passengers and bags. In addition, this approach has created a “hassle factor” at airports that drives away airline passengers.
Credible estimates put the lost airline business due to this factor in the vicinity of $3 billion per year.
A more intelligent approach to airport security is to apportion security resources to passengers and baggage in proportion to estimated risk—just as law enforcement agencies do in other circumstances, ranging from the stalking of public figures to family violence. Risk-based airport security would mean a reduced focus on finding bad objects and an increased focus on identifying potentially bad people—those most worthy of additional scrutiny. Screening resources would then be applied in accordance with a passenger’s risk category. This report shows how a risk-based system can be implemented without posing a threat to the privacy of air travelers.