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NMSU professor finds "smart borders" not smart enough

"Smart borders technology" is a catchy phrase, but that technology alone may not be enough to do the job for which it was created, according to research by a New Mexico State University government professor.

ng the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Canada, Mexico and the United States have looked to technology to help screen for terrorists and weapons of mass destruction while trying to maintain an economically acceptable flow of goods and people across their borders.

Research by NMSU assistant professor Jason Ackleson asks a number of questions about the effectiveness of these techniques. His work is published in the latest issue of Review of Policy Research.

Ackleson found that screening, biometrics and information technology are not as effective as projected. An example of biometrics is the use of digital fingerprints and photos as identity systems for border crossers. His research reports that one cargo-screening system now being touted was rejected by federal agencies for cost and speed reasons in the 1990s.

His research was two pronged: evaluating the nature of threats under globalization and analysis of crisis policies created after Sept. 11.

"I looked at the scope of border crossings using data on crossings and apprehensions, inspections and costs for delays. Field research on some of the technologies, as well as government reports on them, was the final piece," Ackleson said, describing his research.

U.S. borders remain porous and there continues to be a massive flow of people and trade across them. Ackleson reports that "smart border" technologies by themselves provide a limited amount of border control in the counterterrorism effort.

He offers recommendations for strengthening those efforts: more intelligence sharing, more law enforcement cooperation among the countries and establishing more of what he calls "virtual borders." These are areas miles away from the frontier where inspections would take place and goods or people pre-cleared to cross.

Public policy also should be improved, he says.

"Adding the economic and social concerns of Mexico, Canada and border communities to the high-level domestic policy process would foster a more balanced position on pressing regional issues," Ackleson concludes.

"Thus, a multifaceted risk-based approach that employs a number of policy positions and tools -- including technology -- and genuinely weighs the real concerns and interests of border communities, civil society, industry and all three NAFTA partners may be the only sustainable, if partial, solution to North American border security in the post-9/11 era."

The Review of Policy Research, published on behalf of the Policy Studies Organization and the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, is an international journal devoted to the dissemination of research and insightful commentary on public policy change.