Skip to main content /TRAVEL /TRAVEL

Passenger profiling beefed up at airports

From Kathleen Koch
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A security checkpoint at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport missed the knives and stun gun that Subash Gurung carried in his bag Saturday.

But an aviation industry group says that airline computers did flag him as a potential threat, prompting airline employees to search his bags at the gate and find the weapons.

It's an example of passenger profiling, and airlines say it's a key security tool.

Attack on America
 CNN NewsPass Video 
Agencies reportedly got hijack tips in 1998
Intelligence intercept led to Buffalo suspects
Report cites warnings before 9/11
Timeline: Who Knew What and When?
Interactive: Terror Investigation
Terror Warnings System
Most wanted terrorists
What looks suspicious?
In-Depth: America Remembers
In-Depth: Terror on Tape
In-Depth: How prepared is your city?
On the Scene: Barbara Starr: Al Qaeda hunt expands?
On the Scene: Peter Bergen: Getting al Qaeda to talk

"That is what we need to be looking for: Who is that individual who is a potential threat to all of the other passengers?" said Carol Hallett, president of the Air Transport Association.

The computer-assisted passenger profiling system flags passengers who, among other things, buy one-way tickets, pay with cash or have an unusual travel history.

Before the September 11 hijackings, passengers who were identified had their checked baggage screened by explosive detection equipment. Now, in addition, a passenger's carry-on luggage is hand searched, and he or she can be questioned and detained.

In another change, the FBI and law enforcement have given airlines access to their watch lists of suspects.

"As soon as the agent puts your name in for your reservation -- and it's already in the machine -- then the machine will not even spit out a boarding pass," U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said.

Mineta insists that, to avoid discrimination, the system does not factor in a person's ethnicity. But some security experts believe it should.

"We are concerned about people from a particular region of the world. They tend to be young, they tend to be male. And we ought to spend most of our time looking for them," said Neil Livingstone, chairman and CEO of Washington-based GlobalOptions.

Civil liberties advocates, though, insist there are rising numbers of complaints from passengers who say they've been unfairly targeted. Such critics warn that profiling opens security gaps rather than closing them.

"Profiles are notoriously underinclusive," said Gregory Nojeim, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "Who knows who the next terrorist will appear as? It could be a grandmother. It could be a student. We just don't know."


• U.S. Department of Transportation
• Federal Bureau of Investigation
• GlobalOptions
• American Civil Liberties Union
• Air Transport Association

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


Back to the top