Comment Blog 29 June, 2017

A digital border for a digital age

The digital age is here. Business is conducted via virtual work places; relationships thrive on social networks. New products and operating models have been designed to fit a digital society. The digital world is underpinned by data, enabled by new technologies and propelled by citizen expectations.

At the UK border, data is already having an impact. Eight in 10 plane passengers provide personal information pre-arrival, allowing for a smoother entry into the UK. But with 123 million people entering the UK a year, rising security threats, ageing IT systems, budgetary constraints and soaring trade, border and security agencies must keep pace with latest developments to enable swift access while maintaining security.

The digital revolution at the border 

Advanced predictive analytics can use information gathered about passengers to assess risk by comparing data against crime watch-lists. The UK has analytics running at the National Border Targeting Centre, where passenger information is received and assessed. Similarly, the EU member states have been given a directive to set up PIU (Passenger Information Units), where passenger data will be collected and assessments carried out to determine risk.

In trade, custom agencies can utilise data to detect fraud and other crimes. The exhaustive pool of information available between surveillance and border agencies, if shared securely, will help combat threats and prevent illegal goods coming through customs.

Biometric technology verifies physiological characteristics, such as a face, fingerprint and retina, to validate the identity of travellers. Biometrics enable improved screening and identity tracking, facilitating faster movement across borders.

These processes are being pioneered across the globe. Schiphol airport in the Netherlands has implemented 36 eGates, which use facial recognition technology. Over 210,000 passengers passed through the new eGates in a six-week periods, with passengers processed in less than 15 seconds. As a terminal with an annual expected growth in passengers of approximately 5 per cent, the airport’s new approach has provided greater speed and the ability to meet global travel demands. In Aruba, facial recognition has provided an almost touchless journey. Customers provide the necessary biometric information, prior to their journey, through an app on a mobile device.

New technology can accelerate this. The Internet of Things (IoT), is a network of digitally connected devices which are embedded with sensors to track and provide updates. By embedding sensors in commercial vehicles and containers, real-time data can be delivered to customs officers. Combined with analytics, this will allow custom agencies to monitor cargo and track journeys. The Port of Hamburg is the second busiest container port in Europe. To help keep traffic flowing smoothly, the port authorities used IoT technology to implement smartPort Logistics.  This enabled a real-time connection to the port’s various stakeholders through a mobile business cloud. Based on analysis, smartPort Logistics provides schedules, tasks and insights to port users via their mobile devices.

Bringing the digital revolution to the UK

Implementing new technologies will provide security benefits and improved traveller services.  To ensure success, however, the UK Border workforce will need to be trained and given the right skills and tools.

There have been a number of pilots in the UK that are heading in the right direction. Border Force e-gates implementations are a great start, as is leveraging facial recognition technology to verify passenger identity. However, more can be done. Turning to the global spectrum reveals an advanced biometric capability. Australia’s ‘offshore-border’ approach, where customs collect data from travel agents and airline companies then cross-reference it against national databases to identify risk, has resulted in 50 per cent fewer travellers undergoing additional checks at airport immigration.

Following international leaders would help provide the UK with a comparative advantage for attracting trade and travellers. In a digital age, the UK needs a digital border to do this.