Airline Security Through Artificial Intelligence

How the Transportation Security Administration Can Use Machine Learning to Improve the Electronic Baggage Screening Program

by Shawn McKay, Gavin S. Hartnett, Bruce Held

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The Aviation and Transportation Security Act (Pub. L. 107-71, 2001) requires that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screen 100 percent of checked baggage at airports. To fulfill this mandate, TSA procures, installs, and maintains screening systems for checked baggage at airports through its Electronic Baggage Screening Program (EBSP). The Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center was asked to produce a 20-year EBSP technology roadmap to inform the future of checked baggage screening.

One possibility for improved baggage screening is to incorporate recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in the screening process. There is a large and growing list of cognitive tasks for which ML can outperform humans, and many of these tasks are similar to those involved in TSA's screening process for checked baggage. The authors of this Perspective describe the current state, challenges, and outlook for AI and ML, using the EBSP example as a case study. The authors build on research and analysis conducted more broadly on technology development for EBSP, and much of this Perspective is drawn from the non–publicly available documentation of that work. The findings will likely be of interest to those planning to incorporate AI or ML into legacy technology systems.

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This research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and conducted within the Acquisition and Development Program of the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center federally funded research and development center.

This publication is part of the RAND Corporation Perspective series. RAND Perspectives present expert insights on timely policy issues. All RAND Perspectives undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.