Airport Searches

Privacy and Security

Article Snapshot


Chris Hoofnagle


Entry in The Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties, Paul Finkelman, ed., Routledge Press, 2006


This paper describes the history of airport searches.

Policy Relevance

Airport searches have become more extensive over time, but are allowed by the Fourth Amendment because of the high risk of hijacking.

Main Points

  • Airport searches began in the 1960s due to an increase in hijackings and air piracy. They include searches of and interviews with passengers and electronic screening of baggage.

  • Airport searches are usually carried out by the private sector, but because the government requires the searches, the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects privacy, does apply.

  • The Fourth Amendment allows airport searches and screening without a warrant because of the high risk.

  • After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, searches have been expanded. A “trusted traveler” program was considered that would allow prescreened passengers to avoid extensive searches.

  • Checked baggage is now subject to hand searches and dog sniffs.

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