CT Strategies’ Takeaways from the 2018 CBP Trade Symposium: Part 1, Perspectives on Technology

The CT Strategies team was pleased to attend the annual U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trade Symposium in Atlanta on August 14th-15th. The event presents a great opportunity to network with former colleagues from CBP and current associates in the trade industry, and to hear CBP’s message to the trade community. We will be sharing our takeaways from the Trade Symposium in three parts.
In part one of our 2018 Trade Symposium Recap Series we discuss leadership’s perspective on technology and innovation; including automation, big data, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and cybersecurity.  
For a detailed look into challenges CBP is facing with E-Commerce, ACE and the Single Window program, we recommend reading Part 2 of our series.
Readers interested in how CBP and the Private Sector are partnering to enhance facilitation and enforcement, including combating Forced Labor, and building partnerships through Trusted Trader Programs like CTPAT and Air Cargo Advanced Screening, should read Part 3 of our series. 

Throughout the Trade Symposium, CBP and private sector representatives referenced various technological advancements than can help the agency address enforcement and facilitation challenges. Today, we review these challenges and opportunities by discussing four technology themes impacting the agency: Automated Cargo Processing, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, and Cybersecurity

​CBP Leadership is Focused on Technology and Innovation. 

​Commissioner McAleenan opened the Trade Symposium discussing various technology initiatives being taken to improve trade processing such as ACE enhancements, blockchain, new scanning equipment to detect opioids, artificial intelligence for classifications, cloud migration, and other advanced analytic efforts. 

Automated Truck Cargo Processing

To begin the 2nd day, as part of the Leadership Town Hall panel, Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner (DEAC) for the Office of Field Operations, John Wagner, discussed the need to integrate more new technology without adding more work for Officers, considering CBP’s ongoing staffing shortage. He discussed the ability to use facial recognition of truck drivers and integrated NII/radiation detection as part of a vision for nonstop truck traffic.

Wagner noted the success in reducing truck traffic through the Pre-Arrival Readiness Evaluation (PARE) program happening at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo. He discussed the potential for remote NII image viewing and common viewer technology. Perhaps the capability to scan checked luggage overseas before it departs for the U.S. could be replicated someway in the cargo environment?  The more pieces of the process that can be automated will allow CBP to use finite human resources and discretion where they are needed most.

Analytics and Automation

Acting EAC for Operations Support, Linda Jacksta, discussed how the Office of Intelligence was using new data analytics programs for the modeling and simulation of data pulled from CBP Operators and Trade Specialists. AC for the Office of Finance, Sam Grable, discussed continued revenue modernization efforts to eliminate the collection of cash at cargo border crossings and ehanced software programs to administer the hiring process across the agency. AC for Trade, Brenda Smith, discussed the build out of automation on the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) and advanced analytics work being done by the Centers of Excellence and Expertise.

Big Data, Automation, and Artificial Intelligence Present Both Opportunity and Challenges. 

​As part of the ‘Emerging Technologies’ panel, Former CBP Assistant Commissioner for the Office Information & Technology, Charles Armstrong, discussed the pros and cons of the collection of so much data by government and private entities, including CBP. While allowing for more automation and advanced risk analytics this tremendous amount of data also presents security and management challenges.

More cloud storage will be necessary for the volume of data as well as more extensive cybersecurity measures to protect it. For instance, if trade data was compromised, nefarious actors could create fraudulent shipment records or steal key data. Regulations that balance both the sharing and protection of data will be key going forward.

Automation and Artificial Intelligence could eventually perform document review and fraud detection, the classification of goods, and even the movement of data between systems. At ports, containers will more frequently be unloaded and moved without the need for humans. An industry representative noted that CBP should be careful not to sacrifice customer service with the introduction of new technology. Resources should still be invested in communications between CBP and the trade.

​CBP is in the Early Stages of Examining Blockchain Technology 

There has been a great deal of buzz in the global supply chain logistics world surrounding blockchain technology lately and CBP is open to examining how it could help improve data transfer and security processes.

Standardization and Interoperability

Commissioner McAleenan stated the need for standardization if and when CBP scales up broader use of blockchain.  There are multiple blockchain providers in the market. CBP would like to evaluate different service providers as part of different proofs of concept. Eventually, CBP would need to have its systems be interoperable with any number of other blockchain users in the global trade community. He analogized the situation to how, some years ago, CBP needed to make its traveler data intake systems interoperable with any airline to submit advance passenger data.

Proofs of Concept on IPR and FTAs

Vincent Annunziato from CBP’s Office of Trade explained a couple of the blockchain tests CBP is preparing for during the ‘Emerging Technologies’ panel. One proof of concept, to enhance IPR enforcement, would allow rights holders, licensees, and CBP to all share data on the same blockchain so that CBP can be made aware, in virtually real-time, whether an unauthorized party has misappropriated a license. Another proof would allow CBP to receive authentication of goods entering under a free trade agreement through blockchain, as immutable validation of the FTA would be shared with appropriate parties across the supply chain.

Potentially, other still paper-based processes could also be eliminated by the use of blockchain. CBP’s pace of blockchain adoption will be driven in part by the trade community’s pace of adoption. A continued government-industry dialogue around the technology is essential. At the end of the day, there will need to be solid business cases proved for any adoption of blockchain.

Secretary Nielsen Stressed the Importance of Cybersecurity within the Interconnected Trade Ecosystem  

​During her keynote address on day 1 of the Trade Symposium, DHS Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, drew on her background in cybersecurity to stress the importance of that issue to the 1,100 attendees. In making the first appearance by a confirmed DHS Secretary at the event, Nielsen demonstrated a recognition of the importance of trade to the DHS mission.

Amidst the many conversations at the Symposium about data sharing and connectivity, Nielsen emphasized that while this interconnectedness was allowing for more transactions faster, it was also creating a collective cybersecurity vulnerability. Because there is the potential for cascading consequences across the supply chain if one entity is compromised, a collective strategy should be sought. She mentioned the National DHS Risk Management Center for Critical Infrastructure, which would include certain efforts on cybersecurity in the supply chain. In today’s threat environment, cyber intrusions may be inevitable. Redundancies across the network are needed to ensure continuity and mitigate the scale of any incident. 

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