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Effectiveness of key border protection system not evident

by Sam Murphy •
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Performance reporting has not been done on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) Central Movement Alert (CMAL) system, an audit report by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has revealed.

The report has made four recommendations that have all been agreed by DIBP. These are to:

  • Develop a strategic plan to guide and manage the future direction of CMAL;
  • Develop and implement a regular review program for CMAL records;
  • Better demonstrate CMAL’s contribution to Australia’s border security arrangements; and
  • Review alert reason codes, entered by users into the system.

As one of DIBP’s key border protection systems CMAL is an electronic watch-list which contains information about individuals who pose either an immigration or national security concern to the Government. All travellers entering Australia are checked against CMAL at several points along their travel pathway.

CMAL is currently used by three agencies aside from DIBP- the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

More than $15 million has been spent on CMAL through contracts covering its build, management and ongoing maintenance. CSC Australia were tasked with building the system in a $6.2 million contract in a bid to replace the ageing Movement Alert System (MAL).

A 2008 audit report of MAL by the ANAO, made five recommendations, only two of which have been implemented for the CMAL system. The three recommendations that have not been implemented are:

  • Regular performance reporting to inform whether or not CMAL is effective in decision-making;
  • The development of a plan for the population, maintenance and review of the database; and
  • The implementation of systems quality assurance mechanisms to ensure successful interfacing.

The lack of a performance reporting tool has meant that the efficacy of CMAL in supporting visa and citizenship applications decisions cannot be assessed.

The report states that “there is a compelling case for the department to provide stronger focus on its strategic positioning, in particular CMAL data ownership and quality control and performance reporting”.

The Audit Report also raised concerns about the lack of strategic planning surrounding the system, given the extensive ICT reforms that DIBP is in the process of undertaking.  The ANAO states that DIBP will have to be “planning for the incorporation of technological advances to keep CMAL sustainable into the future”.

According to the Report, Whole-of-Government initiatives contributing to an integrated border security alert strategy will inform the development of passenger risk assessment as part of a National Targeting Centre. DIBP will have to consider CMAL’s capability of dealing with technological developments, such as greater use of biometric technologies, according to the Report.

Biometric capabilities were a major focus of the Department’s 2012-13 Annual Report which stated that there is an intent to “enhance the Department’s ability—through international and inter-jurisdictional agreements, biometric technology and tools—to acquire (offshore and onshore) and use identity information.”

DIBP is currently developing a capability for automatic sharing of biometric data with Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and New Zealand.

CMAL is also required to interface with ACBPS’ ICT environment, however, the Audit Report states that there is no formal assurance that key elements of the interface are operating effectively.

Following the recommendations of the 2008 report, DIBP, which was then known as the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) sought to establish an Audit Response Steering Group but the group was never formerly established and no meetings ever took place, according to the Audit Report.  

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