Automated borders: Supporting security and commerce

Roz Barrance of Leidos considers the benefits of deploying non-intrusive inspection technologies at the border

By Leidos

04 Jun 2020

As global mobility and trade increases, border management infrastructure is being placed under enormous pressure. Our people, processes, and technology are all working tirelessly, to balance flow facilitation with processing complex transactions and evolving threat detection. To enable the frictionless border of the future whilst meeting new demands placed on us by COVID-19, a shift towards innovative, automated, and contactless border management tools is key.

From arrival at any UK Port of Entry, through to customs procedures and ultimately, departure on the onward journey, goods and people arriving in the UK are subject to a range of checks. It is not currently always possible for each case to be assessed with the same degree of confidence. By using technology to automate, strengthen and advance our assessment and analysis methods, there is an opportunity to raise these confidence levels. Meeting border users’ ‘keep me safe without slowing me down’ expectations, whilst strengthening economic growth, revenue collection, and national security is critical.

Biometrics - People

As EU Exit, COVID-19, and political responses to situations such as the Windrush scandal continue to be heavily debated, we have reached a pivotal point in the UK’s approach to migration. This recognised need for change, combined with a growing number of citizens who are comfortable providing their biometric and digital identities in exchange for more efficient service and enhanced security, presents a huge opportunity to influence and deliver real transformation at our borders.

There are many methods to do this - verifying identity through fingerprint, face, and iris recognition are all existing, deployed, and proven technologies. We must now recognise how COVID-19 influences the safety and effectiveness of these methods. For example, the hygiene risks posed by fingerprint recognition, and the obstruction to facial recognition effectiveness if facemasks become commonplace. With this in mind, contactless identification methods such as iris scanning, RFID readers, voice activated ID-authentication methods, and partial facial recognition, combined with symptomatic screening should be core considerations of any future strategy.

Using automation to enhance these biometric capture methods and turn data into intelligence, can simplify border agents’ workload, whilst improving threat awareness and targeting efficiency – critical factors as we look towards EU Exit and the estimated requirement for 50,000 extra border agents.  

UK Government plans such as moving to a points-based immigration scheme and an Electronic Travel Authorisation system recognise this. To make the desired progress we must ensure privacy and data sharing considerations are at the heart of any deployment.

NII - Trade

As we improve efficiency at the border for people, we must also consider how we can apply technology to automating and improving our approach to clearing goods. We recommend focusing on the user, and integrating government services around their journey, for example: moving towards digital customs entry and biometrics based verification, combined with greater use of Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) technologies, and a tiered Trusted Trader programme. This would provide traders the option to pre-enrol, register their cargo and purpose, and experience minimal friction at the border, allowing them to pass quickly and efficiently.

Leidos is a leading provider of NII technology, with over 750 VACIS® systems deployed globally, scanning cargo containers, trucks, cars, and rail freight to help authorities search for weapons, nuclear material, narcotics, undeclared goods and contraband at cargo terminals, border crossings, military facilities and checkpoints. Our solutions bring the entire goods clearance operation together by presenting operators with a single unified view composed from varied data feeds, including sensors such as radiation detectors, container numbers and license plate readers and manifest data.

To further enhance this capability, Leidos has acquired L3Harris security detection and automation business focusing on the aviation market. Following the acquisition, our combined portfolio now provides and ensures holistic security solutions across the land, air and sea port domains, with more than 24,000 systems deployed in over 120 territories.

As an aspiration, providing the capacity to perform 100 percent scanning on freight flowing into the country would mean no queues or requirements for additional ‘away from the border’ inspection infrastructure. When a container’s scan image reveals goods matching those described in the shipping manifest, border agents can be confident in the reliability of their data and vastly increase targeting accuracy. Government agents can focus on identified threats as opposed to unnecessary interventions, traders conduct faster more efficient business, and the administrative burden for both government and industry is reduced. These advances have the power to transform the UK border into a tool to boost the economy significantly. In addition, the level of power at the border to identify goods and people who should not be entering is substantially enhanced.

In the U.S., Leidos is working with the Department for Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to support delivery of a “Port of the Future” to demonstrate this ambitious aspiration can be achieved with current Leidos technology. Two fully integrated Leidos VACIS® IP6500 fixed-portal high-energy X-ray inspection systems are currently being installed at the high-volume U.S. - Mexico border crossing in Brownsville, Texas, to screen container truck traffic entering the U.S. through this crossing. This “Port of the Future” concept also features our integrated Common Viewer platform, which allows CBP inspectors to view scan images and analyse data from all screening equipment at the port, including other original equipment manufacturer (OEM) systems in a state-of-the-art Command Centre with a video Situational Awareness Wall.

This important programme is CBP’s first rollout of a high-throughput scanning system designed to screen the entirety of container traffic entering the U.S., and is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2020. Leidos has been a proponent of 100 percent scanning in border checkpoint applications for nearly 20 years, and this implementation will demonstrate that the concept is not only feasible, but also essential in promoting trade.

Summary of Automation Benefits

The benefits of the widespread deployment of such non-intrusive inspection technologies are significant. For governments, border resources can be deployed and operated more efficiently, duty collections can be increased, compliance enhanced, and fraud reduced. The trade community benefits from shortened clearance times, reduced queues, and consequently lower operating costs. On a wider scale, as a society, we all benefit from greater national security through a reduced risk of terrorism and drug trafficking.

The introduction of automated technology at borders around the world is inevitable and already a reality for Europe with the implementation of the new automated Entry Exit System (EES) in the Schengen Area. Recognising this, we continue to enhance our capability and ensure new technology is progressively used to benefit the security and prosperity of our nations’. For example, enhancing our current offerings with the application of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning algorithm integration to improve threat classification accuracy, reduce false alarm rates, and ultimately enhance efficiency and security.

Given the UK’s new place in the world, and the increased traffic expected at our borders post EU Exit, innovations such as these are crucial to ensure that we, as a nation, are ahead of the game. By taking full advantage of technology already at our fingertips, we can ensure this is the case.

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