CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Anyone who has flown on a commercial airline since 2001 is well aware of increasingly strict measures at airport security checkpoints. A study by Illinois researchers demonstrates that intensive screening of all passengers actually makes the system less secure by overtaxing security resources.
University of Illinois computer science and mathematics professor Sheldon H. Jacobson, in collaboration with Adrian J. Lee at the Central Illinois Technology and Education Research Institute, explored the benefit of matching passenger risk with security assets. The pair detailed their work in the journal Transportation Science.
“A natural tendency, when limited information is available about from where the next threat will come, is to overestimate the overall risk in the system,” Jacobson said. “This actually makes the system less secure by over-allocating security resources to those in the system that are low on the risk scale relative to others in the system.”
When overestimating the population risk, a larger proportion of high-risk passengers are designated for too little screening while a larger proportion of low-risk passengers are subjected to too much screening. With security resources devoted to the many low-risk passengers, those resources are less able to identify or address high-risk passengers. Nevertheless, current policies favor broad screening.
“One hundred percent checked baggage screening and full-body scanning of all passengers is the antithesis of a risk-based system,” Jacobson said. “It treats all passengers and their baggage as high-risk threats. The cost of such a system is prohibitive, and it makes the air system more vulnerable to successful attacks by sub-optimally allocating security assets.”
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