Tipping the Scales

Washington State Border Patrol launches text messaging and Web tip service

Border security has been a hot-button issue ever since Arizona passed its controversial immigration law. The new measure orders immigrants to carry proof of their immigration status at all times, and they can be arrested if they can’t present proper documents.

The police are allowed to question and arrest people if there is a “reasonable suspicion” about their immigration status and can charge undocumented citizens with trespassing. The bill also makes it illegal to hire and transport illegal immigrants, even if they are family members. This immigration legislation is the toughest in the country to date.

Separate But Equal
The southern border typically receives more media attention and employs stricter security measures than the northern border. However, the United States and Canada share more than 5,000 miles of border, while the United States and Mexico share 1,900 miles. It is widely understood that the northern border is more difficult to monitor due to its expansive and harsh landscape, which is often exploited by traffickers.

The Canadian border is a prime throughway for people and drugs. Since 1999, more than 100,000 pounds of marijuana have been smuggled into the United States. It also is the main entryway for ecstasy.

Since 2005, ecstasy trafficking is eight times greater at the northern border. According to the 2010 National Drug Threat Assessment, the amount of ecstasy seized at the northern border increased by 594 percent from 2004 to 2009. Cocaine and heroin seizures at the northern border also have risen from less than 1 to 18 kilograms and less than 1 to 28 kilograms, respectively.

See it, Text it
In a less controversial and more evidence-based way of dealing with border crimes, the U.S. Border Patrol’s Spokane, Wash., sector is asking area residents, campers, hikers and hunters to send an anonymous text message from their cell phone or the Web when they notice suspicious activity. The Spokane sector employs 200 patrol agents and covers eastern Washington and Idaho, and western Montana up to the Continental Divide.

This tip-based method relies on actual eyewitness accounts of suspicious behavior—when residents see something suspicious, they send a text or Web tip.

The Spokane Sector Border Patrol and Anderson Software, a provider of law enforcement tip management software and Web applications, have joined together to provide this pilot program.

“The popularity of text messaging has created a significant opportunity for the public to assist the Border Patrol in combating cross-border crime and smuggling,” said Tim York Spokane, sector acting chief patrol agent. “The ability for any citizen who owns a mobile phone to assist in accomplishing our mission of securing America’s borders is of great importance, and we are excited to play a pivotal role in the transmission of these crime fighting tips.”

Secure and Anonymous
Used by more than 600 law enforcement agencies, including the New York Police Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Chicago Police Department and New Scotland Yard, TipSoft SMS guarantees anonymity by encrypting text messages and routing them through several secure servers, protecting the personal details of the informant. The service assigns an alias and a unique ID number to an informant, which allows law enforcement to respond to the tipster without knowing his or her identity.

The TipSoft website also supports two-way online dialogue. When tips are received by text or e-mail, the application provides an immediate alert to law enforcement.

The system manages multiple tips by filtering them to predefined users. Different tip information can be designated for specific users. Tips also can be tracked in the system, from the initial receipt of the information to an arrest.

The server and processes are certified secure and hackerproof by ScanAlert, the industry-leading server security verification service.

The network, hardware and applications are audited daily to ensure continual compliance with the SANS/FBI security test, along with the Department of Homeland Security’s published recommendations.

The application and transaction servers reside in a state-of-the-art commercial data center employing rigid corporate- and government-level security measures, including full-time and screened onsite security personnel who require biometric access.

Tips can be reported to border patrol by sending a text message to “BORDERTIP” or “CRIMES,” or through the WebTips website at http://www.tipsubmit.com.

About the Author

Sherleen Mahoney is a Web managing editor at 1105 Media.

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