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World: Border Controls Need New Technologies, Better Collaboration

What can be done to make life easier for travellers? (epa) LONDON, June 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- On the one hand, the European Union has been easing and sometimes abolishing border controls between member countries. On the other, there are long traffic jams at the bloc's outer borders and between non-EU countries.

Tougher passport checks and security screenings are slowing down travel for tourists and tradespeople alike. What can be done?

"Border control is becoming an increasingly important issue across Europe, and we have seen a number of states within Europe developing ever more sophisticated and cooperative border controls in recent years," says Garry Hindle, who heads the Homeland Security and Resilience Department at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

"Counterterrorism is probably the latest addition to the list of reasons why this is important. But, of course, we have illegal immigration and serious organized crime, which are both major drivers of this cooperation, too," Hindle adds.

Hindle says more collaboration is needed. Long lines of unhappy tourists at airport security checkpoints show the existing systems are having trouble coping.

Passports are often being machine-screened, people are passing quickly through metal detectors, and their baggage is being X-rayed for sharp objects or suspect contents. Yet, the lines remain.

New Technologies Needed

International security experts, themselves increasingly irritated by international travel, see the only way out being through the introduction of new technologies.

"I am regularly inconvenienced by being at airports, whether it's in the United States or Europe or Asia," says James DeCorpo, a director in the Science and Technology Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

"We hope the new collaboration in technology that we've initiated with the Department of Homeland Security and [the] Science and Technology [Directorate], with such countries as the United Kingdom, Sweden, and other members of the EU, that eventually we'll develop some international standards," DeCorpo adds.

DeCorpo says these standards should lead to technologies such as more powerful scanners that will hopefully be uniform all over the world, thus helping to move people faster through border and security controls.

It is a difficult balancing act, he says, reconciling reliable and thorough security controls with people's privacy, but he says there is no other choice. Security measures cannot be relaxed.

'Horizontal' Collaboration

Both Hindle and DeCorpo spoke at a recent conference at the Royal United Services Institute in London that focused on responses to terrorist and organized-crime threats.

Apart from the need for new technologies, conference delegates stressed that expanding collaboration "horizontally" -- among various departments and services and between nations -- is one of the keys to success. Finland and Australia are said to have the best response systems in place for countering terrorist threats.

International collaboration should also help in the fight against illegal immigration and human trafficking, which has become one of the most profitable activities of organized-crime syndicates.

Hindle says that EU governments are being pushed hard by their citizens to do something about these problems.

"I think that political expediency already guides a lot of government policy in this area," he says. "If you look at some of the domestic attitudes in Germany and the U.K. and France, to some extent, you’ll find that the attitudes among the population are much more extreme than the attitudes of their governments."

Hindle says that while intelligence services have been increasingly successful in uncovering terrorist groups, human-trafficking mafias have been more difficult to neutralize.

Even more difficult to uncover are the cross-border routes used by drug traffickers. Hindle says this is why the British Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) is currently active in Afghanistan.

"As we know, SOCA are carrying out a lot of work in Afghanistan at the moment, cooperating with British and American forces there to look at how they can mitigate flows of opium heroin from Afghanistan to Europe, and the U.K. more specifically," he says.

DeCorpo of the U.S. Homeland Security Department says international collaboration is continuing apace in an effort to improve existing technologies so that travelers are less inconvenienced and traffickers are caught.

He says his office is cooperating with the Russian Academy of Sciences and with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and that the Central Asian nations will also be approached.

Opium In Afghanistan

Opium In Afghanistan
An antidrug billboard in Kabul shows a skeleton hanging from an opium bulb (AFP)

OPIUM FARMING ON THE RISE Despite a nationwide program by the Afghan government to eradicate opium-poppy fields and offer farmers alternative crops, international experts say that the 2006 opium crop will be as much as 40 percent larger than the previous year's. Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium in the world, and the source of as much as 90 percent of Europe's heroin.(more)


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