IBIS (Interagency Border Inspection System)

IBIS (Interagency Border Inspection System)


The Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) is a database of names and other identifying information used to deter and apprehend suspects—including suspected terrorists—as they attempt to pass through international border crossing checkpoints.

IBIS provides a rapid means to link names with other identifying information such as passport or credit card numbers. IBIS data is intended for easy crosschecking with other databases such as the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database and state-level National Law Enforcement Telecommunications Systems (NLETS) databases.

The IBIS database is also used by more than twenty federal investigative agencies and, following the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001, elements of IBIS name-recognition technology are finding increased usage by the FAA and private security companies (principally companies serving airlines and insurance agencies) wishing to identify suspected terrorists. For example, all airlines operating within United States airspace must crosscheck passenger and crew lists against IBIS.

As of March 1, 2003, the newly created United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) absorbed the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). All INS border patrol agents and investigators—along with agents from the U.S. Customs Service and the Transportation Security Administration—were placed under the direction of the DHS Directorate of Border and Transportation Security (BTS). Responsibility for U.S. border security and the enforcement of immigration laws was transferred to BTS.

BTS is scheduled to incorporate the United States Customs Service (previously part of the Department of Treasury), the enforcement division of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (previously part of the Department of Justice), the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (previously part of the Department of Agriculture), the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (previously part of the Department of Treasury), Transportation Security Administration (previously part of the Department of Transportation) and the Federal Protective Service (previously part of the General Services Administration).

Former INS immigration service functions are scheduled to be placed under the direction of the DHS Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Under the reorganization the INS and other absorbed agencies will formally cease to exist on the date the last of their functions are transferred.

Although the IBIS database is scheduled to continue, in an effort to facilitate border security, BTS plans call for higher levels of coordination between formerly separate agencies and databases. As of April 2003, the specific coordination and future of the IBIS program was uncertain with regard to name changes, database custody, and policy changes.

Prior to integration of INS and Customs service functions into DHS, IBIS was used and maintained principally by those two agencies. Other United States law enforcement and regulatory bodies that utilize IBIS data and technology include the CIA, NSA, FBI, Secret Service, and Coast Guard. International agencies such as Interpol also contribute to and use the IBIS database. Regular updates to lists of names of persons prohibited from entering the United States, criminal suspects, or individuals sought for questioning are provided from a global network of Consular Officers at U.S. embassies and consulates managed by the Department of State.

In addition to attempting to identify terrorists, IBIS is also a key component in attempts by the DEA to deter drug trafficking and ATF attempts to regulate arms shipments. A number of other agencies such as the Internal Revenue

An electronics technician for the U.S. Border Patrol uses a crank to manually turn two surveillance cameras, a thermo imager, right, and a daytime camera, left. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS.
An electronics technician for the U.S. Border Patrol uses a crank to manually turn two surveillance cameras, a thermo imager, right, and a daytime camera, left.

Service (IRS) and Animal Plant Health Inspection Service utilize IBIS to identify individuals suspected of offenses within their respective agency jurisdictions. IBIS is also designed to facilitate identification of vehicles, aircraft, and vessels.

Proponents of the IBIS system argue that the system allows the majority of individuals seeking to cross the border for legitimate purposes to do so in a rapid, uncomplicated manner. Rather than subjecting every individual to what would be a lengthy wait while lists of names from various agencies are checked, IBIS permits a simpler, quicker, and more secure clearance procedure.

In an effort to enhance accuracy, IBIS technology incorporates language analysis software (e.g., name recognition software) and specialized search tools. One goal of name recognition software is to provide a mechanism to correct faulty transliteration of names (e.g. the erroneous translation of an Arabic name into English). Errors common to transliteration—especially oral to written transliterations—include faulty phonetic assignment of letters to unfamiliar ethnic sounds, faulty fusion of syllables (e.g., a fusion of parts of a name such as a given name with a family name), and faulty assignment of parts of names to specified fields in the input sequence of analysis programs. For example, in some European based languages "van" or "von" is most often a surname prefix but in some Asiatic languages "Van" is most often a surname. Some Arabic names, for example, may be commonly translated into more than thirty different English spellings or variations from the single form found in Arabic.

In standard database searches, if a name entered does not match the spelling or form of a name originally entered in a database, matching the names may be impossible. Standard database search techniques such as keysearches that attempt to match character strings (e.g., specific combinations of letters) often provide erroneous results based upon input errors that occur either during the checking procedure or when a name was originally loaded into the database. More complex search protocols utilize so-called fuzzy logic subroutines that look for similarities and patterns in character strings while allowing for some degree of variation. Fuzzy logic based database search programs allow search protocols to check for common errors, and provide enhanced accuracy to search routines.

The great number of languages and ethnic variations of spellings, however, requires specialized name recognition software. As of 2003, a company under contract to the U.S. government, Virginia based Language Analysis Systems, was developing programs with search components designed to facilitate the identification of the cultural origins of names and terms. Other techniques include protocols that analyze data for specific errors. Other companies have developed programs that apply multiple pre-fixes and suffixes to input names, use multiple phonetic spellings, translate spellings into various foreign alphabets, and employ result-ranking schemes to enhance search results.

Such name recognition software will play a critical role in linking often dissimilar databases maintained by separate agencies and such "smart" search protocols will be essential in achieving efficiency and accuracy in the new Department of Homeland Security. For example, IBIS combined with the INS Advance Passenger Information System (APIS), allows immigration and customs inspectors to use a single input screen to make a joint search. Other systems targeted for database interface include the FAA Computer Assisted Passenger Screening System (CAPS).



Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. INSPASS. March 1, 2003. < http://www.immigration.gov/graphics/howdoi/inspassloc.htm > (April 14, 2003).

Department of Homeland Security. April 2, 2003. < http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/index.jsp > (April 11, 2003).

United States Department of Homeland Security. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, PORTPASS. March 11, 2003. < http://www.immigration.gov/graphics/howdoi/portpass.htm > (April 9, 2003).

United States Department of Homeland Security. Immigration Information, INSPASS. March 4, 2003. < http://www.immigration.gov/graphics/shared/howdoi/inspass.htm > (April 9, 2003).


APIS (Advance Passenger Information System)
IDENT (Automated Biometric Identification System)
INSPASS (Immigration and Naturalization Service Passenger Accelerated Service System)
NAILS (National Automated Immigration Lookout System)
PORTPASS (Port Passenger Accelerated Service System)
SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers' Rapid Inspection)

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

IBIS (Interagency Border Inspection System) forum