Putting Analytics at the Border Would Increase Security, Convenience (Industry Perspective)

As more and more people travel and global trade expands, it's clear that effective identity management is becoming a critical issue for governments worldwide.

by Charles Prow, General Manager, Global Government, IBM / July 3, 2014
Courtesy of IBM

One of the obstacles to fast and secure border control is a frontier security process that has been used for hundreds of years -- and is still the basis of many border management systems. But as increasingly more people travel and global trade expands, it’s clear that effective identity management is becoming a critical issue for governments worldwide. 

Ease of access and freedom of movement must be balanced with a country’s security needs. However, as is often the case, when political leaders demand tighter security, administrators tend to add more steps onto existing systems. Inevitably that means more time and greater inconvenience for international travelers, trade goods and cargo. 

Behind the scenes, border management systems are attempting to handle a balance of security and facilitation. The consequences of getting the balance wrong can have an immediate impact on the nation and the traveler. As such, some countries are starting to redesign border crossing procedures, especially in airports, to increase security while speeding up the process with economic vitality in mind. 

The trick is to identify and analyze the travelers and cargo before they get to the border – or before they board the plane. Then at immigration checkpoints, all screeners need to do is verify that the traveler is the same person who was already cleared to cross. Two-factor verification with a passport and a biometric identifier like a fingerprint or an iris-scan is quick. It also can be easily automated. 

Most countries could greatly improve travelers’ experience by clearing the majority of travelers in advance. Many are already taking steps along these lines because of the economic benefits of making countries more accessible to both tourists and business travelers. Last year, Australia and Canada became the first two nations to implement pre-travel screening systems based on a new standard being used by airlines worldwide. 

Companies are increasingly using customer relationship systems to keep track of their customers and make purchase and credit decisions almost seamless. Governments can borrow these techniques to offer their own customized services. 

Using advancements in IT like big data analytics, governments can do what those companies do: understand the patterns of a person’s behavior and know what it implies. If people – business travelers or family members, for example – travel frequently to the same places and stay for short periods before returning, they should be waved through the border the next time they come.   

The key to the way businesses use customer relationship systems is the ability to collect and update all data about a customer and automatically evaluate it each time a new transaction occurs. 

Governments can use similar big data analytics techniques to make decisions about travelers. They can collect data that airlines create in standard Passenger Name Records (PNR) as recommended by the International Air Transport Association, an airline trade association. The PNR includes 19 standard fields such as the travel itinerary, which based on return flight plans, and a link to any passengers traveling together. Then the information can be combined with data such as the Advance Passenger Information the U.S. collects from airlines.   

Over time, governments need to build up records of travelers’ histories. Border control departments should know the countries travelers visit and how often they travel. That’s the electronic equivalent of the ink stamps that customs agents traditionally hand stamp on passports. Entry gate agents can flip through a passport and see if a passenger has been to the country before. But using computers to examine the information in advance can be much more useful in highlighting unusual patterns.   

When governments share these kinds of data, they can also check on whether passengers have followed their original departure plan. They could start to check whether visa-holders had adhered to requirements that limit their stay as a student or temporary worker to a fixed period. Coordinating data between airline entries and land-based border crossings is challenging. But airport arrival and departure data can go a long way toward letting countries know who they are admitting and whether they adhere to their visa terms.   

One of the biggest concerns is always privacy.  But there is universal agreement that any country has a right to protect its own borders and create rules regarding who can enter and what they can do inside the country's borders. Travel records can be maintained with security guarantees. The key is securing the data so that it can only be used for the purposes for which it is collected.   

For example, Australia says that its border security system is compliant with data privacy and access requirements of both the Australian Privacy Act and the provisions of the European Union-Australia PNR Agreement. Moreover, most people are willing to authorize use of their information for purposes of travel. A worldwide survey by IATA found that 73 percent of all air passengers and 84 percent of frequent business travelers were willing to provide information that would let them be pre-screened and moved rapidly across national borders.   

Technology can help governments and customs agencies to develop and implement improved identity management solutions that enable quick and accurate identity information exchange, while protecting individual privacy rights and civil liberties. Real-time analysis and historical information mining and research provide the insights needed to make more intelligent decisions about customs or border entry and security. 

Travel into a foreign country is a privilege granted by the country under international law. Almost all countries want the economic benefits of expanded travel and trade. They also want to secure the safety of the people inside their borders. By using analytics, governments can begin the journey by developing, and ultimately implementing, a roadmap that assures an integrated, collaborative approach that will secure borders while enabling travel and trade. 

Charles Prow is currently the general manager responsible for IBM’s Global Government business. He is responsible for developing and executing growth strategies to all levels of government globally. These strategies leverage the full breadth of IBM’s research, technology and service capabilities to deliver innovation solutions to critical governmental missions.