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Aviation Security: A Case for Risk-Based Passenger Screening

November 27, 2012

Aviation Security: A Case for Risk-Based Passenger Screening (PDF)

Source: Naval Postgraduate School (via Homeland Security Digital Library)

Since September 11, 2001, the United States has invested considerable resources to improving aviation security. Despite technology and procedural improvements, passenger screening remains subject to much criticism. Challenges to the current approach include the assumption that all passengers pose a risk; the reactive responses to new threats that are applied broadly to all passengers; high levels of threat uncertainty; a focus on objects versus people; and time constraints on completing the screening process. Combined, these challenges adversely impact performance and result in poor public acceptance of government efforts to protect the commercial aviation sector from terrorist attacks. Questions persist regarding the long-term efficacy and sustainability of the current approach and the availability of a better model.

The approach used by Israel and a risk-based approach that calibrates security measures to groups of passengers based on risk are two frequently offered alternative screening models. This thesis evaluates the current and alternative models using security effectiveness, risk mitigation, constitutional permissibility, social acceptance, and political feasibility as evaluation dimensions. This evaluation of policy options allows a side-by-side comparison of the three models and demonstrates that adopting a risk-based security approach to passenger screening is the best option for the U.S. government to pursue.

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