NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Airlines Are Profiling Passengers

October 23, 2001

"Profiling" is no longer a dirty word -- at least not in the airline industry. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, airlines in conjunction with the federal government have been developing and refining airline-passenger-profiling systems to help them identify and head off similar threats.

Information about the systems and how they work is classified. But some details have emerged.

  • For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has given the airlines access to its list of suspected terrorists.
  • Other federal agencies -- such as the Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service -- are also said to be sharing their watch lists with the airlines.
  • The system is likely to take into account such factors as how an individual's ticket was purchased, the clothes the passenger is wearing, the passenger's nationality, travel history or even the book he or she may have just purchased at the airport bookshop.
  • Airlines are interested in purchasing software designed to recognize multiple English spellings of Muslim, Middle East and Arabic names.

The FBI's list of suspected terrorists had 450 names on it two weeks ago. Now it has more than a 1,000, says someone familiar with it.

Airline security specialists say the industry's emphasis has shifted beyond baggage -- and toward passengers.

Source: David Armstrong and Joseph Pereira, "Nation's Airlines Adopt Aggressive Measures for Passenger Profiling," Wall Street Journal, October 23, 2001.

For text (WSJ subscribers)


Browse more articles on Government Issues