The Impact Technology Can Have In Securing The World’s Busiest Borders
Most people don’t think much about borders until they have to cross one. When they do, it’s usually a routine experience. But even then, it can be a time-consuming and tiring process. So, the last thing any traveler wants, whether they’re trying to enter a country through an airport, a seaport, or a land border crossing, is to risk delaying their journey further by raising the suspicion of border security personnel.
International trade and investment have always relied on the cross-border mobility of individuals.
Likewise, border security agents, who are often working with limited time and resources, want to avoid unnecessary detainments. These professionals are tasked with securing borders and keeping people safe — and carrying out their responsibilities as quickly and efficiently as possible. They’re also under intense pressure to keep both people and goods moving smoothly and swiftly through border crossings to keep the engines of cross-border commerce humming. This means they may have to make judgment calls in mere seconds as to who is allowed to pass and who needs greater scrutiny.
That isn’t easy. Recent statistics from some of the world’s busiest ports of entry help to underscore the challenges for border security professionals, just from a traffic perspective:
- New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world, sees more than 33 million international passengers annually.
- The Port of Shanghai, the world’s busiest container port, handled 4.2 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units) in October 2020 alone — a record number.
- About $400 billion in freight crosses the U.S.-Mexico border by truck annually. Many of those vehicles pass through the San Ysidro checkpoint, the busiest land border in the Western Hemisphere, which sees 70,000 northbound vehicle passengers and 20,000 northbound pedestrians daily.
- The Port of Dover, Europe’s busiest ferry port, saw 10.8 million passengers and nearly 2.3 million trucks in 2019.
Borders are critical to sustaining illegal commerce, as well. And, as a nation’s first line of defense, border security professionals are tasked with helping to prevent a wide variety of serious crimes, from child exploitation to drug trafficking to illegal wildlife trade. They are also invaluable resources supporting global counter-terrorism efforts. As the United Nations (UN) explains:
“Ensuring effective border security and management is essential for preventing and countering the flow of suspected terrorists and foreign terrorist fighters across land, air, and maritime borders. Border security and management is also imperative to curb the illicit cross-border movement of arms, ammunition, explosives, hazardous materials, goods and cargo that may be used for terrorist purposes.”
Border security agents do indeed play a vital role in reducing firearms trafficking — from helping to squash cross-border “ant trafficking,” by which individual actors move a small number of firearms to lower the risk of detection, to helping authorities intercept large shipments of illegal firearms at seaports. And they are on the front line of combatting human trafficking, too: Consider that most journeys by victims of human trafficking, globally, include crossing through official border points, such as airports and land border control points, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Terrorists’ Tactics And Pandemic-Related Restrictions Complicate Border Security
The growing population of migrants around the globe, many of whom are refugees or asylum seekers, creates additional challenges for time- and resource-strapped border security officials. The number of people forcibly displaced from their home countries topped 70 million globally in 2018, according to UN data. Among them are terrorists and other criminals concealing themselves in the masses — and border security professionals are tasked with trying to root them out.
Adding to the pressure, government actions in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis have led to severe restrictions on the cross-border movement of individuals. This, along with the intensifying issue of irregular population migration and the persistent threat of terrorist activity, has made it necessary for border security professionals around the globe to consider the following questions when evaluating travelers who want to cross a border under their care:
- Is this person potentially a terrorist or involved in some other type of criminal activity?
- Is this person traveling directly from, or did they pass through along their journey, a country where the COVID-19 risk is high?
Agents at border crossings that see many migrants, such as those in European Union countries, must answer the following questions as well: Is this person an illegal immigrant or a refugee? If they are a refugee requesting asylum, are they eligible for refugee status based on the country’s laws? Or are they prevented from having that protection granted because their travels took them to another country first?
These are critical questions. But the reality is that border security agents usually only have a few seconds to verify who a person is, who they really say they are, and whether they pose a threat. If a traveler’s credentials and story seem incomplete or inaccurate, then agents may need to take that person aside and conduct a more thorough interview. A physical search of an individual’s personal belongings, such as a wallet or briefcase, can sometimes help to expedite the process of confirming that person’s identity and story. But it also can lead to more questions — or concerns.
Digital Intelligence (DI)—the data that is accessed and collected from digital sources and data types—smartphones, computers, and the Cloud—and the process by which agencies access, manage, and leverage data to more efficiently run their operations, however, can help to paint a much fuller and clearer picture.
As law enforcement agencies investigating homicides, child exploitation cases, and other crimes have discovered, DI is key in placing suspects at the crime scene. GPS coordinates, cell tower data, text messages, and call records can all reveal the larger story that connects suspects to crimes. Enterprise investigators are also using DI gleaned from cell phones, computers, and other digital sources to identify those involved in cases of IP theft and fraud by following illicit money transactions, data transfers, and more.
In a similar fashion, DI can provide key evidence for border security personnel by identifying who a traveler is, where they have been and when, what they’ve been doing, who they’ve been in contact with, or even why questionable items found in a physical search may be in their possession. That data exists on mobile devices like smartphones, laptops, and tablets in the form of Internet browsing histories, contact lists, email and text messages, images, and more.
Making data-driven decisions in real-time can help save lives
Today’s border security agents need solutions to harness DI. With the right tools and training, border agents can extract select or full information from devices quickly — and also, make it actionable — right from the field. They can also ensure they’re collecting data in a way that protects people’s personal information, mitigates privacy concerns, and demonstrates to communities how the use of technology, including artificial intelligence (AI)-powered analysis tools, helps secure borders and keep people safe.
Using DI solutions like those made by Cellebrite to capture, preserve, process, and analyze data from multiple kinds of devices during screenings can help border security staff to speed threat assessments, and keep the legitimate traffic of people and goods flowing, at key ports of entry. And the technology can help them decide quickly and more confidently, based on what they learn from the data, whether they should conduct more thorough interviews of individuals and:
- Baggage searches at airports, which can lead to passengers missing flights
- Vehicle searches at land border crossings, which can take hours and, in cases of human trafficking, could result in the loss of human life, if not handled expediently
- Vessel and container searches at seaports, which can take days and also lead to lives lost
During the COVID-19 pandemic, making data-driven decisions to not search vehicles, vessels and aircraft can also help reduce the risk of the virus spreading to customs officers and drivers, and pilots.
Eliminating Manual Processes And Sharing Data To Stop Threats
Advanced analytics solutions, like Cellebrite Pathfinder, allow agents in the field to eliminate manual data reviews that can take hours to conduct. Real-time data capture puts the power of solutions that would normally be allocated to crime labs right on the frontline where they can benefit security personnel the most.
When they do surface digital evidence pointing to a potential threat or criminal activity, border control agents also need to be able to share case information in real-time with the appropriate authorities, such as drug enforcement task forces, terrorist watchlist units, and offender management agencies. Cellebrite solutions are designed to make this information accessible and easy to share, which can help lead to arrests and support the prosecutions of terrorists and other criminals.
The need for DI capabilities at border crossings is clear. And they’re becoming increasingly more important as the number and types of mobile devices that people carry through border crossings grows. Enabling border security agents to conduct real-time data extractions in the field is like bringing the digital forensics lab right to the checkpoint. Simple extractions can yield powerful insights that allow authorized individuals and legal goods to continue along their journey faster, and which give authorities the information they need to stop crimes, rescue victims, and assist people seeking refuge.
Learn more about how Cellebrite’s Digital Intelligence Solutions can help your agency, here.
About The Author: Arnon Tirosh, heads Cellebrite’s Advanced Solutions Group. Mr. Tirosh focuses on end-to-end solutions, combining the full product portfolio into a complete forensic ecosystem. Mr. Tirosh joined Cellebrite in 2014, bringing over 20 years of experience in the mobile and software industries to the company. Prior to joining Cellebrite, Mr. Tirosh held senior customer management positions at Comverse (NASDAQ: CMVT) and Amdocs (NASDAQ: DOX). Mr. Tirosh holds an MSc in Management Engineering from the University of Bridgeport, CT, USA.
1. Cross-Border Mobility, COVID-19, and Global Trade, World Trade Organization, August 25, 2020: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/mobility_report_e.pdf.
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