Risk-Based Approaches to Airline Passenger Screening

Until recently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had applied relatively uniform methods to screen airline passengers, focusing primarily on advances in screening technology to improve security and efficiency. TSA has recently shifted away from this approach, which assumes a uniform level of risk among all airline travelers, to one that focuses more intently on passengers thought to pose elevated security risks. Risk-based passenger screening includes a number of initiatives that fit within a broader framework addressing security risks, but specifically emphasizes the detection and management of potential threats posed by passengers. Various risk-based approaches to airline passenger screening have been used since the early 1970s, including the application of rudimentary behavioral profiles, security questions, and analysis of ticket-purchase data to look for indicators of heightened risk. Additionally, “no-fly” lists were developed to prevent known or suspected terrorists from boarding aircraft, but prior to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, these lists were not robust and proved ineffective. Following the 9/11 attacks, TSA’s initial risk-based efforts focused on integrating checks of passenger name records against the “no fly” list of individuals to be denied boarding and the “selectee” list of individuals of elevated risk requiring more thorough secondary screening. These efforts culminated in the deployment of Secure Flight, which screens each passenger’s full name and date of birth against terrorist watchlists. Additionally, international passengers are screened by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which uses the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) and the Automated Targeting System-Passenger (ATS-P) to conduct risk assessments. At airports, TSA employs behavioral detection and analysis under the Screening Passengers by Observational Techniques (SPOT) program in an effort to identify suspicious passengers. Another risk-based security program is Pre-Check, a trusted traveler program designed to expedite processing of low-risk passengers. In addition to the Pre-Check participants, TSA is routing certain other passengers through expedited lanes using behavior detection officers and canine teams to screen for suspicious behavior and explosives under an initiative called managed inclusion. Implementation of risk-based passenger screening raises numerous issues of congressional interest. These include the efficacy of the SPOT program; how the various elements and programs complement each other and integrate with TSA’s other layers of security; the risk-based approach’s ability to adapt and evolve over time; the ability to measure its effectiveness; the potential impacts of false positives on the traveling public; and implications for safeguarding data and maintaining privacy


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Features: Tables;
  • Pagination: 23p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01710672
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: R43456
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Jul 10 2019 3:23PM