Stop profiling, start analyzing

Risk scoring helps identify high-risk travelers and freight

By Peter Snelling, Principal Technical Consultant, SAS

Border management agencies and customs offices face a difficult choice. Do they carry out comprehensive checks, incurring inevitable delays and inconvenience and driving up costs? Or do they scale down operations and risk letting in travelers or cargoes that are illegal or pose a threat?

In the worst case scenario, more stringent controls can increase delays, without necessarily detecting illegal movements, especially with offenders finding ever more sophisticated ways of evading detection.

Crude attempts at “profiling” often cause resentment without being effective in identifying high-risk individuals. However, accurately identifying where the risk lies is difficult without tools that can analyze and make sense of all of the available data - and do it quickly.

Accurate risk scoring helps agencies effectively direct their resources to where they know the potentially illegal travelers or cargo are to be found.

Why risk scoring is different

So what is the solution to these seemingly intractable problems? Ultimately, security is the most important issue here and to achieve an appropriate balance between cost, passenger convenience and security, we believe an approach based on risk scoring is the only viable option.

Risk scoring offers an increasingly viable alternative to the traditional security approach of blanket checking all passengers. It uses intelligence, behavioral 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 traveler and as such should freely pass through our borders or be subject to further scrutiny. Rather than leading to more open borders, it can actually significantly enhance protection.

This risk scoring approach can bring benefits across a range of different applications. It can help identify people who pose a risk based on accurate assessment of all available information, including known activity patterns, watch lists, advanced passenger information. The identification contains information such as passport number, age, sex, seat number and other data, including where and how the ticket was bought. Analyzing all of this together produces more accurate results and reduces the potential for inefficiency and resentment, which can result from cruder forms of traveler scoring.

Risk scoring can also help reduce border queues by enabling border staff to make rapid and accurate decisions about whether or not to detain and search freight and which travelers to question or detain.

Border agencies also benefit from an approach in which risk models are continually tested against live data and adjusted to improve performance and further reduce the number of false positives. In an ideal scenario, models can be deployed based on advanced and detailed analysis of the information most associated with risk, which is continually evaluated and adjusted. By continually improving the risk model, the agency helps ensure that high-risk travelers and shippers of high-risk freight will be identified even when they try to evade detection.

Accurate risk scoring helps agencies effectively direct their resources to where they know the potentially illegal travelers or cargo are to be found (representing a tick in both the security and cost boxes). They can also – conveniently – speed up the throughput of cargo and passengers. Combining increased security with a better experience is a win for everyone and makes the case for using appropriate tools highly compelling.

It is time for a change of approach in border management and we believe that risk scoring is clearly the best route forward. Learn more about risk scoring by reading Risk Modelling – A New Approach to Border Management.


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