U.S. Customs to ask travelers for their social media accounts

USCBPThe US government is proposing making social media accounts part of the visa screening process for entry into the country.

US Customs and Border Protection’s proposed change would add a line on both the online and paper forms of the visa application form that visitors to the US must fill out if they do not have a visa and are planning on staying for up to 90 days.

The following question would be added to both the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (Esta) and I-94W forms: “Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.”

The information will be optional, for now, but the proposed change published by the US Federal Register states that “collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide Department of Homeland Security (DHS) greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”

The proposal is currently under consultation, with US government taking comments until 22 August.

The change forms part of the plan by the US DHS to scrutinise social media activity of visa applicants and those wishing to enter the country, following the San Bernardino killings in California, in which social media profiles formed part of the investigations along with an iPhone 5C.

Current DHS pilot programmes are being kept under wraps but are said to scan a limited amount of social media posts.

The pilot programmes currently used by DHS do not sweep up all social media posts, though government officials have kept details of the programmes closely held, as they do not want to reveal the precise process they use to try and identify potential threats.

It’s unclear if or how the DHS would verify information written on a form before hitting border control, leaving the possibility of false information being put down, and while the information may be optional, it will likely be difficult to discern what is and isn’t required on the form.

The US government approves around 10m visa applications a year and had 77.5 million foreign visitors in 2015. Collecting social media accounts for all visitors could produce one of the largest government-controlled databases of its kind almost overnight. Source: Customstoday

Advertisements

DHS Achieves Trusted Traveler Program Milestones

product_tsaprecheck_hero_750x200The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently achieved two major milestones for its trusted traveler programs. The Transportation Security Administration Pre✓ application program, which began in December 2013, has now enrolled more than half a million travelers.

Additionally, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has enrolled more than three million users in their trusted traveler programs: Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI. Together, all of these DHS trusted traveler programs provide an improved passenger experience, while enhancing security and increasing system-wide efficiencies.

TSA Pre✓ allows low-risk travelers to experience faster, more efficient screening at 118 U.S. airports nationwide currently. TSA Pre✓ is an expedited screening program that allows pre-approved airline travelers to leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belt, keep their laptop in its case and their 3-1-1 compliant liquids/gels bag in a carry-on in select screening lanes.

The TSA Pre✓ application program allows U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to directly enroll in TSA Pre✓. Once approved, travelers will receive a “Known Traveler Number” and will have the opportunity to utilize TSA Pre✓ lanes at select security checkpoints when flying on a participating carrier: Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America.

Upon arrival in the United States from abroad, Global Entry members are able to bypass the traditional CBP inspection lines and use an automated kiosk. With more than 70,000 new applicants each month, travelers enrolled in this program can scan their passport and fingerprints, answer the customs declaration questions using the kiosk’s touch screen and proceed with a receipt — the whole process only takes about one minute. Launched in 2008, as a pilot program, Global Entry is now a permanent program and has 51 locations in the U.S. and at CBP Preclearance stations in Canada. These locations serve 99 percent of incoming travelers to the United States. Source: dhs.gov

100% Container Scanning in Ports – a solution on the horizon?

Decision Sciences maintains that 100% container scanning is possible without bringingcommerce to a crawl (Credit: Maritime Professional)

Decision Sciences maintains that 100% container scanning is possible without bringing
commerce to a crawl (Credit: Maritime Professional)

The following article published by Maritime Professional describes a new technology, already in use by a major terminal operator, which appears to put the requirement for 100% scanning of all inbound containers back on track. The article has been doing the rounds on a social media platform with some sceptism still being shared on its viability as a ‘100%’ scanning solution. All the same its always interesting to learn of new innovations. I guess the US Treasury has spent billions sponsoring these types of tech-development so as to vindicate its original threat to the rest of the world! (For the PDF version please click here!)

In July 2007, U.S. legislators passed a law requiring 100% scanning of U.S. bound containers at their last foreign ports by the year 2012. That federal requirement nearly died a quick death recently but has received a reprieve of sorts. Originally scheduled to take effect July 1, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in May of 2012 notified Congress that she would use her authority under the 2007 law to delay implementation by two years. Napolitano said systems available to scan containers would result in a negative impact on trade capacity and the flow of cargo, and that some foreign ports do not have the physical characteristics needed to install such systems. If the last part was true then, however, it may not necessarily be the case now.

As reported in our 1Q 2012 edition of MarPro, pilot efforts were established at several foreign ports under the Secure Freight Initiative (SFI) targeting in-bound containers for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) prior to loading. Objections by trading partners surfaced and were confirmed by the Government Accounting Office (GAO).

In her testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in part, “DHS has learned a great deal from these pilots, but it has also encountered a number of steep challenges. Some of these issues relate to the limits on current technology. Technology doesn’t exist right now to effectively and automatically detect suspicious anomalies and cargo. This makes scanning difficult and time-consuming. …Therefore, DHS is compelled to seek the time extensions authorized by law with respect to the scanning provision.” At the time DHS’s Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) had already spent nearly $10 million on efforts to develop a container security device; to no avail.

New Technology: New Hope for Compliance
As the U.S. government continues to try to find a solution to its own scanning requirements, it also continues to fund testing when a promising solution comes to light. In September of last year, Decision Sciences International Corporation (DSIC), a provider of security and detection systems, announced that it was awarded a $2.7 million contract by the DHS Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) for an Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) of its Multi-Mode Passive Detection System (MMPDS). Under the contract, DSIC supports government testing of MMPDS intended to evaluate the system’s effectiveness and readiness for transition to production. Before that, Decision Sciences was awarded another contract – this one worth $400,000 – by the U.S. Department of Defense to test muon tomography based scanning systems capable of detecting explosives. 

The Multi-Mode Passive Detection System – how it works
Based in Chantilly, VA, with a development/production facility in Poway, CA, DSIC and its 27 employees and contractors hope to bring together hardware and software development, systems integration and cutting edge science to improve the safety and security of global commerce. Based on patented technology invented by scientists at the Alamos National Laboratory, the Multi-Mode Passive Detection System (MMPDS) was developed with private sector investment and expertise. MMPDS is billed as a safe, effective and reliable automated scanning device for detecting unshielded to heavily shielded nuclear and radiological threats. In reality, and as MarPro found out during a focused site visit in Freeport, Bahamas, the system does so much more.

DSIC’s passive scanning technology uses naturally occurring cosmic ray muons to detect potential threats in cargo, vehicles and other conveyances. DSIC President and CEO Dr. Stanton D. Sloane explains, “Equipment can generally be classified into two main categories; active and passive. Active systems include x-ray and/or radiation technologies. In other words, they add some sort of radiation or energy to the environment. Our system is 100 percent passive; we don’t generate any additional energy. We simply use the existing cosmic ray ‘muons’ to do the scanning. When cosmic rays hit the upper atmosphere, they create showers of atomic particles. One of the particles is a muon. High in mass, muons travel at near the velocity of light. Because of this, muons penetrate materials … even very dense materials … readily.

Normal cosmic radiation is 5000 muons per minute and penetrates through lead, steel, concrete and just about anything else. Sloane adds, “That’s really the breakthrough technology. We have upper and lower detectors. As the muons go through the upper detector we calculate their trajectory. As they go through the bottom detector, we calculate their trajectory and we look for a change in that track. The angular change of the track is a function of the density of the material that the muons go through. The denser the material that the muons penetrate, the larger the angular change.”

Beyond the efficacy of the system is its vivid imagery of the inside of the container it is scanning. With x-ray machines, if something is found, the container must be taken to the side, analysis performed and delays to the container magnified. Not so with Decision Sciences technology: false positives are eliminated because the density of typical items – and the dangerous ones too – can be catalogued.

Continue reading →

Corruption persists at Customs and Border Protection

A CBP vehicle patrols the border in Arizona in 2010. (Matt York/AP file photo)

A CBP vehicle patrols the border in Arizona in 2010. (Matt York/AP file photo)

Nearly 150 Customs and Border Protection officers were arrested or indicted for corruption over the last eight years, a new report has found. A majority of the officers were stationed along the Southwest border, the Government Accountability Office determined. An additional 2,170 were arrested for misconduct in the same time period. GAO cited CBP’s lack of review and oversight of its employees and monitoring processes as complicit in allowing corruption to fester within the agency. (Readers please bear in mind that CBP has over 50,000 members)

Incidents of corruption included fraud, harboring aliens, selling immigration documents and allowing loads of narcotics through a port or checkpoint. Of the 144 corruption incidents, 103 — more than 70 percent — were considered “mission-compromising.” CBP even reported some instances of “infiltrators” seeking and gaining employment at the agency for the sole purpose of engaging in mission-compromising activity. For example, an officer stationed in El Paso, Texas, was arrested in 2007 for conspiring to import 5,000 pounds of marijuana each month into the United States. Less than 1 percent of arrests for misconduct, however, were related to CBP’s mission.

GAO recommended CBP — part of the Homeland Security Department — better track which pre-employment screens assist in identifying unacceptable job applicants. CBP currently conducts background investigations and polygraph examinations for potential hires, but does not monitor which tactics are the most effective. GAO also suggested CBP assess the feasibility of expanding the polygraph program to include occasional tests for current employees. Additionally, the auditors said the agency should improve the quality assurance of its screenings and set a timetable to complete a comprehensive employee-integrity strategy. CBP concurred with all of GAO’s recommendations, saying while an overwhelming majority of its employees are honest and hardworking, there is little room for error. “Any act of employee corruption interferes with the agency’s mission to secure the nation’s borders against all threats and facilitate legitimate travel and trade,” Jim Crumpacker, DHS’ chief liaison to GAO, wrote in a letter to the auditors. Source: www.govexec.com

Homeland Security’s App for Smartphones and PC’s

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security‘s Science and Technology Directorate and its public and private sector partners have developed a must-have “app”: the First Responder Support Tools (FiRST) for computers and smartphones.

At approximately 6:30 pm on Saturday, May 1, 2010, a smoking SUV in Times Square was reported by alert street vendors. Acting quickly, NYPD evacuated vast stretches on 7th and 8th Avenues, including Broadway theatres and several other buildings and hotels in the area. The entire area was barricaded. Times Square on a Saturday evening before the shows is teaming with people, and the terrorist knew that. The bomb failed, but had it detonated, it would have killed and wounded many, according to NYPD.

In the first chaotic moments after suspicion of a bomb threat, first responders have a myriad of questions, assessments, and decisions to make, all at once, and all the while the scene could be changing rapidly. Is the bomb real? How large is the potential blast radius? Where will we evacuate people? Are there any critical infrastructure or special-needs population centers in the vicinity? Any schools, hospitals nearby? What roads should be closed? Which roads should stay open for evacuees? And on and on….What if they could get all this information in one place?

Now they can: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and its public and private sector partners have developed a must-have “app”: the First Responder Support Tools (FiRST) for computers and smartphones.

Users start by entering what they know about the (possible) bomb, including its geographical location. The app will then advise them on factors such as the distance around the bomb that should be cordoned off, the best locations for road blocks, what buildings should be evacuated or serve as shelter sites, and what some of the local “areas of concern” are – places such as schools, for instance, or other areas where large numbers of people are at risk. It will also estimate what to expect in the way of structural damage and injuries, should the bomb go off.

Because no two bomb threat scenarios are identical, there are many opportunities for users to provide information on their own unique situation, so the output of the app will be custom-tailored to them. Maps of the area can then be labelled by the user, and shared by email with other personnel.

The app can also be used in the event of toxic substance spills, as it includes information on the handling of over 3,000 hazardous materials. Using its weather feature, users can additionally determine the likely route that airborne substances will be carried by prevailing winds, and then warn or evacuate people accordingly. FiRST works on iOS and Android devices, along with PCs. It is available to first responders only, at a price of US$12 for the mobile version, or $100 for the desktop. Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security and gizmag.com