Analyzing Data for Safer Travel
By: Josh Kussman
Senior leaders at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have increasingly emphasized the importance of risk-based approaches to securing our homeland. Too often, such statements seem more slogan that substance. But efforts by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to collect and analyze data using the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) have successfully demonstrated how risk-based approaches can both improve border security and make travel more efficient and convenient. APIS data includes flight information plus traveler information found on a passport, including name, gender, and country of passport issuance. Momentum appears to be growing internationally for greater collection and analysis of APIS data—opening the door to greater security cooperation and more streamlined international travel experiences.
The legacy U.S. Customs Service (which, in 2003, became CBP when DHS was created) pioneered early efforts to secure our borders by analyzing data on international travelers. Historically, some airlines voluntarily shared APIS data with customs officials. But after 9/11, such efforts were significantly intensified. Regulations now require airlines to provide CBP with APIS data before a U.S.-bound airliner departs an overseas airport. Together with Passenger Name Record (PNR) information collected by airlines, such data provides the backbone of CBP’s ability to focus inspection resources on the highest-risk travelers. For example, in July 2003, CBP officers at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport used APIS data to identify a passenger arriving from Amsterdam for additional security screening. The individual—Raed Mansour Al‑Banna, a Jordanian national—was ultimately denied entry to the United States. In February 2005, Al-Banna committed a deadly suicide car bombing in Iraq, killing 132 people.
APIS and PNR data also provide the foundation for some of our most effective trusted-traveler programs, which help facilitate the movement of legitimate trade and travel. Pre-screened enrollees in CBP’s Global Entry program, for example, can use kiosks to skip long security lines when arriving on international flights.
Encouragingly, the international community appears to be following CBP’s lead. Last year the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for all member states to collect and analyze APIS data, underscoring the “particular and urgent need” to prevent the travel of foreign terrorist fighters. Unfortunately, there is more international enthusiasm than ability for such risk-based security approaches: only 51 countries currently have the capacity to collect and analyze APIS information for such purposes.
For this reason, the U.S. government should put its full weight behind the UN call for greater worldwide collection and use of APIS data. CBP has proven that such risk-based security programs can be more than just slogans. Accordingly, we should use diplomacy and aid to actively support the efforts of our foreign partners to develop and implement both the regulatory regimes and information technology systems necessary to collect and analyze APIS data.