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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 August 2006, 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK
Passenger profiling: A way forward?
Heightened security checks resulted in delays
UK transport officials are said to be considering introducing passenger profiling on grounds including ethnic origin and religion.

Supporters say it could cut the delays caused by universal security checks after the uncovering of a possible plot to bring down planes - others say it will cause resentment and improving technology is more important.

Passenger profiling would see certain travellers designated for more rigorous security checks before a flight.

People behaving suspiciously or with an unusual travel pattern could be selected but racial or religious factors may also form part of the criteria.

At the weekend, former Metropolitan Police chief Lord Stevens told the News of The World airport disruption could be reduced by profiling passengers.

He said: "I'm a white 62-year-old 6ft 4in suit-wearing ex-cop - I fly often, but do I really fit the profile of suicide bomber?

"Does the young mum with three tots? The gay couple, the rugby team, the middle-aged businessman?"

But his comment that "young Muslim men" should be a focus of security attention was attacked as "an extreme form of stereotyping" by the Muslim Council of Britain.

Critics argue that many British Muslims are wrongly perceived to be extremists and such measures could further isolate the community.

They also say the public understand the need for lengthy checks.

According to Tom Ridge, the first person to lead the US Department of Homeland Security, "People don't mind a little more inconvenience because they do have a heightened level of comfort and security when they see what government's doing to protect them."

But he also acknowledged more sophisticated systems needed to be devised to keep the support of the public.

'Easily circumvented'

Industry analysts suggest increased investment in airport technology is the most effective method.

"Profiling can be easily circumvented," said Chris Yates, aviation security editor at Jane's Aviation Review.

"A trained terrorist will be well versed in the sorts of profiling techniques typically used."

Mr Yates said explosives can be disguised and will not get picked up by the ordinary X-ray machines currently in use across UK airports.

Heathrow operator BAA, for instance, recently purchased three Rapiscan Systems Secure body scanners which can also detect high-tech plastic and ceramic firearms and explosives.

'Not smart'

Human rights organisation Liberty is among those to contend that intelligence-led policing is the solution.

Its director Shami Chakrabati said passenger profiling that takes into account race, gender or age is "not smart security".

We are by no means convinced that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages in this case
Inayat Bunglawala, Muslim Council of Britain

"I believe that we're dealing with ruthless terrorists and probably for a significant period of time - that means people who will have no hesitation using and abusing children, using people of different races, converts and people who have been threatened or induced to carry explosives," she said.

Chief Supt Ali Dizaei, one of Britain's most senior Muslim police officers, said intelligence could be used to examine travel history, purchasing and the number of trips a person might take but there is not "a stereotypical image of a terrorist".

He said on the BBC's Newsnight passenger profiling could alienate communities and leave them "unwilling to fight extremism that could be within their midst."

And Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, maintains the government needs to work closer with the community to fight terrorism.

"The government needs to think very, very carefully before it considers putting this measure into practice," he said.

"We are by no means convinced that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages in this case.

"We have seen very different arrests since 9/11, and terrorists, or suspected terrorists, come from many different backgrounds."

'More complicated'

The Department For Transport does not publicly comment on airport security but powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 means certain passenger data can already be used by police and security services.

We certainly have never relied on searching alone, there is a degree of intelligence involved in this
Des Browne, Defence Secretary

British Defence Secretary Des Browne, meanwhile, has indicated the issue is a top priority.

"Our approach to security, particularly at airports, is much more complicated than just the added complementary security measures that we have introduced recently for very good and obvious reasons," he said.

"We certainly have never relied on searching alone; there is a degree of intelligence involved in this.

"But I think it's entirely inappropriate for me to speculate on what we might do."

One future area of focus could involve the planned e-Borders programme.

The government has said it is hoped electronically and biometrically screened information on all passengers as they check in from 2008 will identify known terrorism suspects before they board planes.

A pilot scheme called Project Semaphore, which has seen passenger information stored electronically and linked to databases kept by law enforcers, is credited with leading to a number of arrests.

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