Features: November 30th, 2011

The ever increasing flow of passengers through airports has caused a re-think about how the UK border is best protected. Banking and other financial services have long used risk profiling processes to distinguish the reliable from the unreliable customer. Joanne Taylor explains how risk profiling, used so successfully in the private sector and by administrations overseas, could be the way forward for UK border protection.

Most of the media coverage of the borders pilot immigration scheme has focused on the political battle between Theresa May and Brodie Clark. It has missed the key point that the scheme was successful in its primary objective of detecting more high-risk individuals trying to enter the country illegally from Europe.

As immigration minister, Damian Green, recently said: “The pilot was about changing the way we checked people from Europe and refusals from this group actually went up 33 per cent in this period.” He added: “We were getting regular information from [pilot scheme] management about what was happening, and it was telling us that there was… a 48 per cent increase in fraudulent documents detected and that cocaine seizures and illegal firearms seizures were up.”

Certainly, the blanket approach to border security is unwieldy in comparison with the passenger profiling used in the pilot scheme. Not only does the traditional approach result in long queues and delays at airports and other border crossing points, but it is clearly not the most efficient way of detecting illegal immigrants and other high-risk individuals. With the ongoing trend towards globalisation and escalating passenger numbers, these kinds of blanket checks are looking increasingly untenable.

Profiling Concepts

Passenger profiling offers an increasingly viable alternative to traditional security techniques. At its best, it effectively involves using intelligence, data analytics and behavioural modelling to assess the levels of potential risk individuals may pose. Many sceptics will have the public believe that passenger profiling is akin to racial profiling which is not only incorrect, but is nothing more than scaremongering by those who have not taken the time to understand the concept. Passenger profiling is about assessing risk, it employs complex algorithms and advanced risk management to evaluate whether an individual is a legitimate traveller and as such should freely pass through our borders or be subject to further scrutiny. – and rather than leading to more open borders, it can actually significantly enhance protection.

This kind of profiling is increasingly being deployed around the world – and SAS® is involved in delivering the technology that supports it. The concepts behind it are well established in a range of industry sectors, including most notably financial services and banking, where profiling is used to detect counter fraud, to decide whether an individual is a suitable candidate for a mortgage or a loan, or to assess whether a specific transaction should go through.

Utilising the same techniques, SAS is also involved in cargo profiling at borders. The Korea Customs Service (KCS) uses SAS® to implement advanced risk management with a high detection rate, improving the effective inspection of imported goods and detection of illegitimate goods.

KCS had needed to implement a fast, reliable way to spot illegal imported goods in order to replace the impractical practice of total cargo inspection. The SAS solution enables more targeted and accurate inspection of cargo leading to more efficient detection rates by resources. As a result of using SAS® KCS was able to improve the detection rate of illegal cargo by 20 per cent, and to achieve, more accurate sorting and inspection of that illegal cargo as well as faster customs clearance for normal cargo.

Driving Efficiencies

While safety and security must always be paramount, the operational efficiencies that passenger profiling supports should not be ignored. In the KCS implementation, a decrease in inspection rates and number of inspections through advanced risk management resulted in lower staffing levels. Furthermore, the number of inspections for normal cargo was significantly decreased.

As a result, these kinds of organisational efficiencies could potentially have great benefits in reducing the impact of public sector strikes like those taking place on November 30. In this context, instead of the border authorities having to rely largely on the initiative of untrained staff backfilling striking border staff, they could have the peace of mind of knowing that the technology could be accurately risk assessing passengers and would be flagging high risk suspects to stop at the border controls.

Ultimately, with more than 125 million passengers entering the country every year, introducing intelligence-led, targeted checks on higher-risk travellers through passenger profiling has to be the common sense approach.

Joanne Taylor is Director, Public Security with SAS.