​Data61 partners with Unisys for data analytics-based border protection system

Data61 will be probing anonymised data sets from airlines using analytics and machine learning to identify patterns that indicate potential risks of both traveller intent and cargo contents.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor on

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organisation's (CSIRO) Data61 has announced a partnership with Unisys Corporation that will see the development of an advanced data analytics solution for the automated security risk assessment of travellers and cargo.

Unisys will fund the joint research project with Data61, as it works on the development of an advanced data analytics solution capable of detecting potential border security risks posed by travellers, visa applicants, cargo, and parcels at air, land, and sea borders.

As part of the project, a proof-of-concept will be conducted at a "major Asian hub" with the intention of developing the technology into a product to be made available to governments to aid in securing their international borders.

The research involves assessing anonymised data sets from airlines using analytics and machine learning to identify patterns that indicate potential risks of both traveller intent and cargo contents, CSIRO said.

According to Unisys, the partnership builds on an existing large-scale border security analytics capability the company already has, with Unisys currently working with governments worldwide to secure its country borders and facilitate the movement of people and goods, including the Australian Department of Immigration and the United States Customs and Border Protection.

"The end goal of this international collaboration is to make border security processes more efficient, cost effective and safer for countries around the world," Data 61 CEO Adrian Turner said. "It's one of the ways Data61 is working with industry to translate data-science -- in this case deep analytics and machine learning -- into a viable product to help deliver economic and societal impact."

Speaking at the Garner 2017 APAC Data & Analytics Summit in Sydney last month, Turner insisted that automation must be embraced by government, not just the private sector.

According to Turner, Australia needs to recognise the areas where technology -- in particular automation -- can really make a difference.

"If we take a step back and break it all down, there's actually enormous opportunities for new industries. The world's moving, the models are shifting, we're moving to more rapidly iterate more careers within our career. We shouldn't fear this change, we should embrace it. We should work with the technology," he said.

"What we're moving to -- at a country level, a corporate level, an individual level -- it's really the survival of the digital fittest."

The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection announced in early 2015 it would be using IBM's cognitive computing platform Watson to tap into further sources of relevant information, from which the department hopes to be able to make further observations from unstructured data sources such as news feeds and government reports.

At the time, former acting deputy secretary of intelligence and capability and now CIO, Randall Brugeaud, said the use of Watson has the potential to serve up large amounts of useful data without overloading analysts.

"We are hoping that Watson will allow us to more effectively manage the information overload problem by detecting signals in the very noisy world of unstructured, open-source data," he said.

"Being able to rapidly expose connections between otherwise isolated threads will allow us to become more effective in our mission."

Under laws introduced to the Australian Senate in October, intentionally re-identifying a de-identified dataset will become punishable by up to two years' imprisonment, with the laws to be retrospectively applied from September 29, 2016.

When announcing the proposed legislation in September, Australian Attorney-General George Brandis said open data was a vital part of modern government, and claimed "privacy of citizens is of paramount importance" to the government.

In February, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee recommended the legislation be passed through Parliament despite concerns about the scope of the law, its reversal of the burden of proof, exemptions under it, and the retrospective nature of it.

In tabling its report in Parliament, the committee's report outlined several key issues with the Bill: The release of de-identified information; the criminalisation of re-identifying data; the scope of the offences; the scope of the minister's exemption powers; the retrospective application of the laws; and the reversed burden of proof from the prosecution to the defendant.

According to the Senate committee, however, these concerns are all overridden by "the gap that was recently identified in privacy legislation", with the committee noting it was of the view that the Bill provides a necessary and proportionate response.

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