In an increasingly interconnected world, the challenges associated with border security have grown more intricate. The need to facilitate smooth, efficient travel while also ensuring national security is a delicate balance that demands innovative solutions. One of the most promising avenues for addressing these challenges is the integration of artificial intelligence and OSINT in border management systems.
Borders exceed physical boundaries: they serve as gateways to cultural exchange, trade and travel. Yet, their multifaceted role extends to bigger security measures, tasked with preventing the travel of illicit goods, human trafficking and averting potential threats to national control.
Modern border management is responsible for a lot, from managing intricate immigration flows to detecting and preventing increasingly sophisticated criminal operations. Central to all of their responsibilities, though, is border security’s fundamental challenge: balancing security and accessibility. Amid the myriad of new and emerging solutions to solve this challenge, the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and open-source intelligence (OSINT) into border management systems is extremely promising.
AI-assisted OSINT applied to border security
A well-secured border fosters an environment conducive to networking and growth while maintaining security. Travelers move quickly through border checkpoints without unnecessary interactions with agents. Bad actors are preemptively blocked from entry, and interventions at checkpoints are quick, effective and legal.
To facilitate this type of high-functioning border, agencies need reliable and timely intelligence. OSINT is increasingly becoming an “intelligence discipline of first resort” and is extremely valuable to investigations regarding people, goods and contraband moving across a border. By applying the power of AI to OSINT, agencies can shorten their time-to-insight to make sense of the vast amount of open-source information, precisely identifying threats while enabling free movement.
OSINT and AI bringing frictionless borders in sight
Friction is both a bug and a feature of border crossings, placing hurdles in the path of accessibility to ensure security. By integrating AI and OSINT with border management systems, the dream of frictionless borders comes closer to a reality. For instance, one of the main goals of border security that AI is working to quickly address involves minimizing the number of interventions that a border control guard may have to take during screening processes.
With its capacity to process data in real-time, AI-driven systems usher in quicker and more efficient border checks — shorter wait times for travelers, speedier cargo inspections, reduced congestion and improved enforcement.
But it’s not just about speed. AI algorithms excel in high-precision tasks like facial recognition and object detection, decreasing the amount of human errors and false alarms. The result is a border security infrastructure that’s not only more productive but also more reliable.
It’s no wonder then that more defense departments and agencies are beginning to instill AI systems into daily regulation routines — this past spring, the Department of Homeland Security announced the adoption of AI into border security management. It has called for the creation of the department’s first Artificial Intelligence Task Force to enhance the integrity of supply chains and border management:
““...We will seek to deploy AI to more ably screen cargo, identify the importation of goods produced with forced labor, and manage risk. The task force will also, among other charges, leverage AI to counter the flow of fentanyl into the United States.””—Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security
Of course, like all intelligence, artificial intelligence is still subject to error. By pairing AI with OSINT and other “INTs,” border security agencies can create a robust system to quickly corroborate and verify information from a variety of sources.
NeedleStack hosts sit down with Declan Trezise to consider the possibilities of integrating AI with OSINT for border security — using language models allows for seamless retrieval and understanding of multiple texts across multiple languages.
Leveraging OSINT and AI for risk mitigation
As the world becomes more awash with data, OSINT plays an even bigger role in border security: the utilization of publicly available information helps researchers mitigate risk.
OSINT encompasses several sources, from websites to social media platforms, and even commercial datasets, providing information that can aid in identifying potential threats. AI-fueled tools, in conjunction, are instrumental in sifting through information, enabling border security to pinpoint data and assess risks. For instance, AI can identify individuals of interest, analyze online activities and determine potential risks they pose.
OSINT and AI become especially powerful when applied to text data. In an era where immense amounts of information are generated daily, AI language models can read, understand and summarize text across multiple languages. Similar language models such as ChatGPT have even been used recently during OSINT investigations. Moreover, instead of flooding analysts with a barrage of data, AI can filter the most critical information from text sources.
OSINT and AI border security: real-world wins — and losses
The plot to detonate liquid explosives on flights was foiled by collaborating international intelligence agencies with the help of AI. In this case, AI algorithms scoured forums across the internet, trying to identify individuals who posed a threat. This wasn’t a matter of simplistic keyword matching — it entailed a deep understanding of different languages and the ability to discern which chemicals are related to potential harm. The result was a telling demonstration of how AI can be used to mitigate risks on a large scale.
However, it’s essential to acknowledge where similar systems — without proper oversight — have failed. The Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 stands as a reminder of the consequences of insufficient name matching capabilities. The Tsarnaev brothers, already on the FBI terrorist suspect database, managed to enter the United States and carry out the attack due to a failure in the system’s capacity to match names written in Cyrillic script against an English watch list. This tragic event underscored the need for a more advanced solution, leading to the implementation of an AI-driven fuzzy name matching system.
On a recent episode of NeedleStack, Vice President of Global Solutions for Babel Street, Declan Trezise, discusses the shortcomings of early AI name matching software in the event of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings.
AI-powered name matching and fuzzy logic
Name matching might seem simple on the surface, but in terms of border security, it’s incredibly complex. Variations or aliases in names can baffle human and traditional computing systems alike. Imagine the countless number of ways your own name could be spelled or written, from different initials to alternate spellings of the same name.
Through the power of machine learning, AI systems can enhance name matching accuracy in ways that surpass human capabilities. They’re not confined by language or borders and can point out specific patterns that escape the human eye. By processing vast datasets and learning from historical processes, these algorithms have reached highly accurate name matches. AI takes the guesswork out of name matching, ensuring that potential risks are identified with precision.
Fuzzy logic also plays a role in this process. Instead of binary yes-or-no matches, fuzzy logic introduces a degree of distinction. When faced with name variations, AI systems employ fuzzy logic to assess the overlap between names and establish confidence levels. For example, if a name is slightly misspelled or formatted differently, fuzzy logic allows the system to recognize a similarity and make an informed judgment. This reduces false positives, ensuring that border control guards are alerted only when there is a substantial risk. The integration of AI, machine learning and fuzzy logic transforms name matching from a cumbersome task into an efficient and highly reliable process.
The path forward: building smart borders
The advancements of OSINT and AI systems have the potential to revolutionize border control by streamlining processes as we know it. However, as we stride forward into this era of smart borders, we must be acutely aware of the ethical considerations that accompany them.
A central ethical concern lies in the trade-off between personal privacy and security. With the integration of AI and OSINT, travelers may find themselves willingly sharing more personal information to expedite their passage. The decision to reveal such data becomes a tricky transaction where individuals must weigh the benefits of faster travel against the exposure of personal details. Achieving an equilibrium between security and respecting individual privacy is crucial.
Moreover, transparency and accountability in AI systems are non-negotiable. Regulation is essential to guarantee that these technologies do not intrude upon personal freedoms. As nations embark on the path forward toward smarter borders, it is imperative that they adopt responsible AI practices, fostering public trust and safeguarding against misuse.
For countries looking to begin this journey, learning from thought leaders in the field is a recommended first step. Prioritizing the improvement of passenger screening against watch lists is key to challenging resources toward genuine security threats, minimizing false alarms, and maximizing the effectiveness of border control personnel. Once a screening system is established, nations can delve into optimizing watch lists and utilizing AI to mine OSINT for emerging risks.
The path to building smart borders is paved with technological improvements, but it is regulations that will ultimately determine the success and sustainability of this groundbreaking endeavor.
Learn more about OSINT research on our blog >Law enforcement OSINT research