WASHINGTON - The United States will announce Friday it plans to begin profiling US-bound passengers in a major shake up of air travel security measures, US media said.
Under the new measures to begin this month, which will apply to US citizens as well, the level of screening of travellers will depend on how closely their personal characteristics match against intelligence on potential terrorists.
The measures will replace mandatory enhanced screening of all passengers travelling to the United States from 14 mostly-Muslim nations, put into place following a failed Al-Qaeda attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day.
"It's much more tailored to what intelligence is telling us and what the threat is telling us, as opposed to stopping all individuals from a particular nationality," said an unnamed US official quoted by The Washington Post.
The announcement to be made by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) comes after a three-month review of security protocols, said the Post, citing a senior administration official.
"It is much more surgically targeting those individuals we are concerned about and have intelligence for," the official said, according to the New York Times.
The current "no-fly" list is to remain in place under the new procedures, but supplemented by cross-referenced information that may see passengers subject to further screening even if their names are not flagged, the Wall Street Journal said.
Characteristics such as nationality, age, recently visited countries, and partial names will be used alongside the "no-fly" list, the Journal said.
The move aims to avoid the intelligence failures that allowed the alleged Christmas Day bomber, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to board the Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam wearing underpants rigged with explosives, even though US intelligence had been alerted to information on him.
Fragmentary intelligence on a possible attacker -- a partial name, certain physical characteristics, or nationality -- would be forwarded by the DHS to airlines and foreign governments, the Los Angeles Times said, and the information used as a guide on who would be screened.
"This is not a system that can be called profiling in the traditional sense. It is intelligence-based," said the official, quoted by the New York Times.
US government guidelines prohibit authorities from singling out people on the basis of race or ethnicity, but the Christmas Day plot swiftly recharged the delicate debate surrounding racial profiling.
In the wake of the botched bombing at least one lawmaker, Republican Peter King from New York, called for US authorities to be less hesitant on the issue.
"The fact is, while the overwhelming majority of Muslims are outstanding people, on the other hand 100 percent of the Islamic terrorists are Muslims, and that is our main enemy today," he told Fox News after Abdulmutallab was apprehended.
Since December the Obama administration has meanwhile also pledged to boost airport security by speeding up the installation of full body scanners at US airports, and to increase funding for federal air marshals on flights deemed most at risk.