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In the era of unprecedented global trade and shifting migration patterns, border agencies are confronted with complex operational and security challenges. Today, technology needs to be applied to move the current border system from a the physical to the digital. What is needed is an intelligent, global approach to border operations that focuses on collaboration, information sharing and the implementation of innovative new technologies.

From biometric passports to artificial intelligence (AI) digital technologies are helping to create a secure and seamless journey between countries. For those who want to know how “frictionless borders” (as they are so-called) work in practice, consider the hi-tech, virtually frictionless border in Norway.

Norway shares the European Union’s longest land border (1,630 kilometres, or 1,010 miles) with Sweden. Despite Norway not being a member of the EU, they remain part of the European Economic Area, which means while they enjoy the benefits of tariff-free trade they still have to mount customs checks at the border.

The border itself has been boosted by major financial investment in digital technologies, which includes: IT and AI systems which allow goods to be declared before they leave the warehouse, and Nordnet — a state-of-the-art communications network — which enables the thorough policing and smooth running of a border of such length.

There is also Automatic Number Plate Registration (ANPR), which alerts officials if a vehicle has previously been entered into the database, for whatever reason. Right now, it is being used in regard to suspicious activity rather than customs checks.

But the real success of these collections of different digital technologies — apart from their speed and ease of use — is the increased collaboration between Norwegian and Swedish border agencies. The integration of these solutions means that, for instance, vehicles only have to stop at one customs checkpoint, and each country’s police force has jurisdiction to operate 10 miles within each other’s territory.

This example shows how the combination of different digital technologies that interconnect and complement one another, can streamline processes for lawful border crossings while tightening the systemic gaps exploited by criminals.

However, the missing piece of the puzzle in the example of the Norway-Sweden border is how to extend these digital advantages along the whole border – not just focused on the official checkpoints. How can border agencies successfully transition from physical borders (complete with manned patrols) to invisible, fully-digital borders? This is an issue facing many countries around the world – anywhere there is a border that cuts through swathes of tough terrain and remote regions, such as the US’s borders with Canada and Mexico (the US-Canada border being the world’s longest).

Here is where distributed acoustic sensor (DAS) technology is vital. DAS works by converting fibre optic cables into an ecosystem of highly-sensitive, individual vibrational sensors. By harnessing cutting-edge photonics, advanced artificial intelligence and edge computing, state-of-the-art DAS solutions can detect, classify and inform on range of events and activities with confidence.

When it comes to moving from manned patrols to digital security, deploying a DAS solution is the best way to enhance operational efficiencies. It delivers detection of threatening activities, including people walking, excavation and tunnelling activity, fence climbing and cutting, or even potential failures of existing security infrastructure – with dual-channel variants also allowing border officials to see the direction of travel across borderlines, whether detecting people and vehicles crossing a border or monitoring multiple assets in a corridor, such as a road or a railway.

Fotech’s DAS security solution can cover borders of any distance, creating a ‘smart barrier’, relaying data, detecting disturbances and providing alerts across the entire length along which it’s deployed. For agents, the result is continuous, round-the-clock monitoring — enabling greater levels of detection and smoother direction of responses in real-time.

As deployments of digital innovations at borders increase, DAS technology needs to be at the core of future border operations.