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Opinion Piece on South Africa Border Management

Risk profiling – a safer, more efficient approach to border control

Johannesburg, South Africa  (27 May 2013)  – By: Lindiwe Mkhize

Looking back over the last couple of years, South Africa has attracted the interest of several high-profile events, the most prominent being the 2010 Soccer World Cup  and, more recently, the 2013 BRICS Summit and World Economic Forum Africa 2013.

These are certainly coups for our country that brings with it great long and short terms financial benefits, greater interest as a destination of choice for business and leisure tourism, greater national pride in hosting a successful event and many more.

What is the flip-side of this coin though?  The recent bombings during the Boston Marathon, which killed three people and injured 264 others, highlighted that with the benefits comes security risks. Additionally, more and more people are crossing our borders, both legally and illegally, and this brings with it additional challenges. Earlier this month for example it was reported that 16 border officials were arrested for allegedly making off with R100, 000.00 per day in fraudulent transactions.

The questions that go with this are numerous. Are we securing our reputation internationally with the best security procedures at our airports and borders be it for VIP, business or leisure visitors? How are we managing this increased footfall into our country? How are illegal immigrants impacting on our National Development Plan? What are the health risks with people not going through the necessary processes?

The fact of the matter is our borders need to be more secure and the best way to do that is through technology and moving to a risk-based approach for border management is the only viable solution. A bespoke, risk-based model such as passenger profiling will dramatically improve efficiency. However, passenger profiling should not come down to human interpretation – it should rely on technology. Technology is key, as it makes factual decisions, whilst humans make subjective ones.  

Risk profiling offers an increasingly viable alternative to the traditional security approach of blanket checking all visitors. At its best, it effectively involves using intelligence, behavioural modelling and data analytics to assess the levels of risk individuals pose. The approach 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. Rather than leading to more open borders, it can 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 profiling are well established in a range of industry sectors, including most notably financial services and banking, where it is used to detect 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, you can also do cargo profiling at borders which has proven to have a high detection rate, improving the effective inspection of imported goods and detection of illegitimate goods.

Over the last decade, the volume of Korea's imported goods more than doubled, whilst the size of the Korea Customs Service (KCS) work force remained the same. This forced KCS to look for a more efficient way to use those limited resources to target the most high risk cargo's to stop the potential increase in the traffic of illegitimate goods.

The agency decided to employ advanced analytics capabilities in its innovation efforts to address the challenge. KCS decided to introduce risk profiling technology that utilised data mining models to identify and assign likelihood of risk that a cargo would contain illegitimate contents. Through the more specific and accurate targeting of cargo and identification of high risk cargo, KCS drove overall detection rates up by more than 20 percent.

Ultimately risk profiling relies on facts rather than the interpretation of individuals. While human experience should never be lost when it comes to border security and the benefits of having experienced border staff in place should not be underestimated, it should be remembered that humans make subjective decisions while data driven technology drives objective, fact-based decisions. 

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