How can the UK balance competing pressures at its borders? Dylan Langley and Ravi Gogna suggest that ‘knowing your customer’, an approach common within Financial Services, will help welcome those seeking to invest, while deterring those who seek to do us harm
A mutual friend of ours recently returned to the UK from abroad. It was an essential journey but luckily for him he made it back a day before the start of the quarantine restrictions at the borders.
Since last month, British and Irish nationals or UK residents arriving from a list of 33 countries are now have to have a 10-day hotel quarantine – yet another burden on the UK Border Force staff. Let’s face it, theirs is not a straightforward role.
Life on the frontline
It’s their job to keep the borders safe 24/7, and we’re not just talking airports here. It’s about the coastline, too, and the physical link to Europe through the Channel Tunnel. This involves gathering intelligence, searching baggage, vehicles and cargo, and checking the immigration status of people arriving or departing. And now, they also have the quarantine rules to manage as well. Talk about multi-tasking.
But it’s not just these day-to-day responsibilities which are at play here. As the UK seeks to not only “Build Back Better” from the pandemic, it is also seeking to carve out a new role on the world stage following the EU-Exit, with much made of the importance of Global Britain.
This means that, as a country, we have to have our doors wide open to potential investors and visitors from overseas. Balancing that, we also have to prevent those who wish us harm from gaining entry.
In other words, there’s an awful lot of pressure resting on the shoulders of the Border Force staff who most of us normally see for fleeting moments at passport control when returning from holiday or a work trip.
Knowing your customer
There’s a phrase that’s extremely common in financial services circles: “Know Your Customer”. In essence, it’s an Anti-Money Laundering process that confirms that a customer is who they say they are, taking into account risk levels and business activities. We even prioritise it here at BAE Systems, in fact.
We believe that this approach is equally applicable at the borders. When we were in the European Union (EU), much of this activity was overseen by our colleagues in Brussels, helpful when remembering that the EU, taken as a whole, is the UK’s largest trading partner. In 2019, for example, UK imports from the EU were £374 billion (52% of all UK imports), and there were also 24.8 million EU tourists that year too. Now, though, the responsibility has been handed back to the UK government.
To truly know their customer, border staff need to be able to identify unknown entities of interest and new patterns and trends; understand the holistic risk and threat assessment to inform priorities; and come up with innovative ways to rapidly create and access these essential insights.
The good news is that the power of technology and data analytics can help turn this vision into reality, and can often help make a decision to prevent someone or something boarding a plane, train, or boat as far away as Sydney or as close as the Coquelles freight terminal near Calais.
The power of data
As you might expect, the Home Office has been conducting risk assessments on travellers and incoming freight for a long time. The current systems have seen an explosion in data volumes, handling over 300 million passenger journeys each year alone.
Now, though, we also have a new data analytics capability for real time risk assessment spanning cross-border movement of people and freight. This new capability, created by a joint Home Office-BAE Systems team, fuses data from across the Home Office and wider government with that of commercial organisations to enable intelligence-led risk assessments.
It is the first step towards a modern data analytics service which can address priorities ranging from reducing threats to facilitating the legitimate flow of traffic, from identifying previously undetectable offences to making more efficient the prioritisation of resources. And, as with organisations in all industries, it’s a necessary transformation – futureproofing critical national services against the dual threat of an ever expanding risk landscape and an unstoppable wave of increasing data volume in which threat actors seek to hide themselves.
Clearly, technology and data only work as part of a constellation of different approaches at the border. But it’s also increasingly evident that data has a crucial role to play in helping border staff know their customer, both good and bad.
Let’s get to work.
About the authors
Dylan Langley is Home Office Account Director at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
Ravi Gogna is a Data Analytics Subject Matter Expert with BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
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