Passenger profiling would be akin to introducing a new offence of "travelling while Asian", one of Britain's top Muslim police officers has warned.
Metropolitan police chief superintendent Ali Desai said proposals to allow airport security staff to target specific people could alienate large sections of society.
He was speaking after reports suggest the Department for Transport (DfT) is in talks with airline security firms to introduce a new screening system that would allow staff to check certain types of passengers as they went through airport checks.
There have been major delays at all the UK's major airports since security arrangements were stepped up following an alleged terror plot to blow up several transatlantic flights mid-air.
But some people have argued that it is a waste of time and resources to search everybody - passenger profiling would allow security staff to stop people behaving suspiciously or these from specific ethnic or religious backgrounds more often than others.
However, Mr Desai warned last night: "What you are suggesting is that we should have a new offence in this country called 'travelling whilst Asian'."
He told BBC Two's Newsnight: "What we don't want to do is actually alienate the very communities who are going to help us catch terrorists."
Former Metropolitan police chief Lord Stevens argued this weekend that passenger profiling was a sensible option given that the main terror threat to the UK was from Islamic extremism - not from elderly grandmothers or young families.
"The truth is Islamic terrorism in the West has been universally carried out by young Muslim men, usually of ethnic appearance, almost always travelling alone or in very small groups," he wrote in the News of the World.
However, Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, argued: "If you target all non-white people, you will feed a sense of injustice that nutters and extremists feed upon."
The DfT has refused to comment on whether passenger profiling was being considered, and speaking this morning, defence secretary Des Browne stressed that he was "not in a position" to judge how security would change after last week's alleged plot.
"Our approach to security, particularly at airports, is much more complicated than just the added complimentary security measures we have introduced for very good and obvious reasons," he told Today.
He went on: "We have never relied on searching alone. There is a degree of intelligence involved in this, but I think it is entirely inappropriate for me to speculate on what we might do, and frankly it is not appropriate to discuss security measures."