The value of risk-profiling

Joanne Taylor explains why fact-based risk-profiling is the way forward for border control.

Jul 19, 2012
By Joanne Taylor
John Boyd

Joanne Taylor explains why fact-based risk-profiling is the way forward for border control.

Recent months have seen an unprecedented level of criticism of the UK Border Agency (UKBA), with MPs warning that it must rid itself of its “bunker mentality” or risk raising suspicions that it is trying to mislead Parliament and the public. A report by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee criticised the agency for failing to fulfill its basic tasks, and said that it risked damaging public trust in the Government.

Once again, we are seeing the narrative around the UK border control story focus on the political disputes between the agency itself and the Government, which date back to the original arguments between Brodie Clark and Theresa May during 2011. All the arguments and confrontations have tended to obscure the real issue which underpinned this argument – namely, how can we effectively manage the growing number of visitors coming into the UK?

The shortcomings of the traditional ‘blanket’ approach to security, which subjects all visitors to the same stringent checks, have been cruelly exposed recently with many air travellers facing up to three-hour waits in the passport control queues.

The growth in traveller numbers coming into the UK is only set to continue. In the short-term, the London Olympics looks set to be the most significant challenge, with estimates suggesting 5.3 million extra foreign tourists will visit the UK this summer as a result of the Games, and already long queues at Britain’s border crossing points will grow even longer as a result.

Tourism is continuing to boom in the UK and looks set to do so for the foreseeable future, making it even more unlikely that blanket security methods will work over the long term. As visitor numbers grow, these methods will inevitably lead to cost increases as more people will be needed to manage border control effectively and bring down the current unacceptable levels of queueing.

An alternative approach

Ultimately, security is the most important issue here and to achieve an appropriate balance between cost, passenger convenience and security, a risk-based approach is the only pragmatic solution.

Despite the negative media coverage, the recent borders pilot immigration scheme, which used risk-profiling techniques, cut queues while detecting more high-risk individuals. Initial results revealed that the scheme was proving successful in its primary objective of detecting more high-risk individuals trying to enter the country illegally – from Europe, in particular.

Indeed, it may have potential benefits for other countries across the continent, with the ongoing downturn making public sector unrest increasingly likely.

Profiling concepts

Risk-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 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 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 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, SAS is also involved in cargo profiling at borders. The Korea Customs Service (KCS) uses advanced risk management with a high detection rate, improving the effective

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