U.S. Customs Know Before You Go—Security Measures
Know Before You Go—Security Measures
Editor's note: The information below was posted on the State Department's web site (www.state.gov) as of March 2005 by Bureau of Consular Affairs and has been condensed by the editors for publication in book format. Readers should consult www.state.gov for additional information, updates, or revisions.
ADVANCE PASSENGER INFORMATION SYSTEM (APIS)
A National Security Initiative
The Advance Passenger Information System enables Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to address national security concerns by identifying possible high-risk passengers attempting to enter or leave the U.S., while at the same time facilitating the flow of law-abiding travelers through the clearance process.
All commercial air and sea carriers are required by law to submit advance information on passengers and crew arriving from or departing to international destinations. This information must be sent electronically, prior to arrival in or departure from the U.S.
APIS Fact Sheet
Q: What is the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS)?
A: APIS is an automated system capable of performing database queries on passengers and crew members prior to their arrival in or departure from the United States.
Q: When was APIS initiated?
A: U.S. Customs Service (USCS), in cooperation with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the airline industry, initiated development of APIS as a voluntary program in 1988 to collect biographical information (name, date of birth, nationality, etc.) from air passengers prior to departure for the U.S. from foreign locations. On March 1, 2003, USCS and INS Inspections became part of the Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Q: Are all commercial air and sea carriers required to provide APIS information on their passengers and crew to CBP?
A: Yes. Legislation requires all commercial air and sea carriers operating inbound and outbound to electronically transmit APIS data on all passengers and crew members to CBP.
Q: When is passenger and crew data provided to CBP?
A: Air carriers must electronically transmit their passenger data within 15 minutes of a flight's departure. The crew member data must be submitted prior to the flight's departure.
For sea carriers, the proposed rule by INS, dated January 3, 2003, states that a vessel on a voyage of: (1) 96 hours or more must submit the information required in the crew member and passenger manifests at least 96 hours before entering the port or place of destination; (2) less than 96 hours but not less than 24 hours must submit the crew member and passenger manifests not less than 24 hours before entering the port or place of destination; or (3) less than 24 hours must submit the crew member and passenger manifests prior to departing the port or place of departure.
Q: How does CBP analyze the data submitted by each commercial carrier to APIS?
A: The APIS data is checked against the combined federal law enforcement database, known as the Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS). IBIS includes data from the databases of CBP and twenty-one other federal agencies. Names are also checked against the FBI's National Crime Information Center wanted persons database.
Q: How do the air carriers submit the air passenger data to the APIS?
A: Where available, carriers utilize document readers, which are placed at ticket counters and departure gates around the world to assist them in the collection of APIS data from machine-readable travel documents, such as passports. The data collected by the carrier is then transmitted to CBP. In order to assist local carrier managers, CBP has assigned APIS Port Coordinators at all U.S. international airports nationwide. CBP also designated National APIS Account Managers to assist carriers with issues related to the transmission of APIS data.
INSPECTIONS - INTERAGENCY BORDER INSPECTION SYSTEM
IBIS Fact Sheet
Q: What Is IBIS?
A: IBIS is the acronym for the Interagency Border Inspection System.
Q: Who Uses IBIS?
A: In addition to the U.S. Customs Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), law enforcement and regulatory personnel from 20 other federal agencies or bureaus use IBIS. Some of these agencies are the FBI, Interpol, DEA, ATF, the IRS, the Coast Guard, the FAA, Secret Service and the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, just to name a few. Also, information from IBIS is shared with the Department of State for use by Consular Officers at U.S. Embassies and Consulates.
Q: What Does IBIS Provide?
A: IBIS assists the majority of the traveling public with the expeditious clearance at ports of entry while allowing the border enforcement agencies to focus their limited resources on those potential non-compliant travelers. IBIS provides the law enforcement community with access to computer-based enforcement files of common interest. It also provides access to the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and allows its users to interface with all fifty states via the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications Systems (NLETS).
Q: Where Is IBIS?
A: IBIS resides on the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS) at the Customs Data Center. Field level access is provided by an IBIS network with more than 24,000 computer terminals. These terminals are located at air, land, and sea ports of entry.
Q: What Information Is in IBIS?
A: IBIS keeps track of information on suspect individuals, businesses, vehicles, aircraft, and vessels. IBIS terminals can also be used to access NCIC records on wanted persons, stolen vehicles, vessels or firearms, license information, criminal histories, and previous Federal inspections. The information is used to assist law enforcement and regulatory personnel.
Q: Additional Questions?
A: Any concerns you may have as an international traveler or importer about the use or application of IBIS may be address to:
Interagency Border Inspection System
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Freedom of Information Act
Customer Satisfaction Unit
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20229
CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION
CBP Authority to Search
A U.S. (CBP) officer's border search authority is derived through 19 U.S.C. 1467 and 19 C.F.R. 162.6, which states that, "All persons, baggage and merchandise arriving in the Customs territory of the United States from places outside thereof are liable to inspection by a CBP officer." Unless exempt by diplomatic status, all travelers entering the United States, including U.S. citizens, are required to participate in CBP processing.
It is not the intent of CBP to subject travelers to unwarranted scrutiny. Let me assure you that CBP inspection procedures are designed to facilitate the entry of U.S. citizens and aliens who can readily establish their admissibility. CBP officers must determine the nationality of each applicant for admission and, if determined to be an alien, whether or not the applicant meets the requirements of the Immigration and Nationality Act for admission to the United States. CBP officers may, unfortunately, inconvenience law-abiding citizens in order to detect those involved in illicit activities. We are especially aware of how inconvenient and stressful the inspection process may be to those selected for inspection. In such cases we rely heavily on the patience, understanding, and cooperation of the traveler.
Speaking with travelers and closely examining their documentation are some of the ways we look for mala fide or improperly documented travelers. We rely upon the judgment of our individual CBP officers to use their discretion as to the extent of examination necessary. However, CBP officers are expected to conduct their duties in a professional manner and to treat each traveler with dignity and respect.
CBP Officers use diverse factors to refer individuals for targeted examinations and there are instances when our best judgements prove to be unfounded. Although CBP does use information from various systems and specific techniques for selecting passengers for targeted examinations, a component of our risk management practices is the use of a completely random referral for a percentage of travelers.
Many travelers wonder if CBP is alerted when an inbound passenger has a warrant for their arrest issued. Yes, CBP is alerted. In the air passenger environment, air carriers transmit passenger information to CBP through the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS). CBP officers also rely on the Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) to determine which individuals to target for secondary examination upon arrival in the United States.
CBP, along with law enforcement and regulatory personnel from 20 other Federal agencies or bureaus, use IBIS. Some of these agencies are the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Interpol, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives, the Internal Revenue Service, the Coast Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration, Secret Service, and the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service. Information from IBIS is also shared with the Department of State for use by Consular Officers at U.S. Embassies and Consulates.
IBIS assists the majority of the traveling public with expeditious clearance at ports of entry while allowing the border enforcement agencies to focus their limited resources on potential non-compliant travelers. IBIS provides the law enforcement community with access to computer-based enforcement files of common interest. It also provides access to the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and allows its users to interface with all 50 states via the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications Systems.
IBIS resides on the Treasury Enforcement Communications System at the CBP Data Center. Field level access is provided by an IBIS network with more than 24,000 computer terminals. These terminals are located at air, land, and sea ports of entry.
IBIS keeps track of information on suspected individuals, businesses, vehicles, aircraft, and vessels. IBIS terminals can also be used to access NCIC records on wanted persons, stolen vehicles, vessels or firearms, license information, criminal histories, and previous Federal inspections. The information is used to assist law enforcement and regulatory personnel.
CBP has the authority to collect passenger name record information on all travelers entering or leaving the United States. This information is strictly used for preventing and combating terrorism and serious criminal offenses with the principal purpose of facilitating the CBP mission to protect our Nation's borders through threat analysis to identify and interdict persons who have already committed or may potentially commit a terrorist act in the future.
Should CBP determine that an error exists within our system of records, corrective measures will be taken.
One of CBP missions is to ensure that travelers entering the United States comply with U.S. laws. In support of this mission, CBP conducts random compliance examinations (COMPEX).
Essentially, COMPEX examinations involve random selection of vehicles and/or air passengers that ordinarily would not be selected for an intensive examination. By combining the results of these examinations with the results of targeted examinations, CBP is able to estimate the total number of violations being committed by the international traveling public.
When CBP compares the results of the two types of examinations, we are better able to devise enforcement techniques that prevent the entry of contraband without creating undue delay of law abiding travelers. Often trends tell us what message we need to send to ensure informed compliance by travelers who were unaware of our requirements.
It is possible that, upon your entry into the United States from a foreign country, you may be selected for a COMPEX examination and experience a slight delay in your Customs processing. CBP believes that this compliance examination is a critical component of our ability to ensure that our processing procedures are effective. We apologize for any delay or inconvenience you may experience and appreciate your cooperation.
Q: What Gives Customs the Right To Search Me?
This is certainly a normal question to ask when you have been referred to our secondary inspection area for an intensive examination.
The Congress of the United States has given the U.S. Customs Service broad authority to conduct searches of persons and their baggage, cargo, and means of transportation entering the United States. This authority is contained in Title 19 of the United States Code, Sections 482, 1467, 1496, 1581, and 1582.
The courts have also held that this search, seizure, and arrest authority is not dependent upon either probable cause or a search warrant as is required by police officers. One reason for this broad authority is the vulnerability of our borders to the illegal entry of a vast amount of dangerous and prohibited items.
We endeavor to use this authority wisely and with respect for human dignity. It is, however, the responsibility of a trained, professional Customs officer to determine the actual parameters of an examination. The officer is not permitted to release a traveler for entry into the U.S. until he or she is satisfied that no Customs or related Federal or State laws have been violated.
Q: Why Does the Customs Service Search Passengers?
A: Customs officers must stop contraband, such as narcotics (drugs) from entering the United States. The narcotics are often found in cargo, but they are also found on passengers or in their baggage. Sometimes people swallow narcotics or insert them in their bodies to hide them.
The only way to be sure of finding narcotics that are hidden in baggage is to open the bags and examine them thoroughly. The only way to find narcotics hidden on or inside a person is to do a personal search of the person's clothing and body.
Q: How do Officers decide which passengers to examine?
A: When a Customs officer stops a passenger, it doesn't mean the person is accused of committing a crime. The examination process is a way to confirm the passenger's U.S. Customs declaration and to allow innocent passengers to continue on their way as quickly as possible. Customs officers receive regular training in methods of identifying passengers who may be smugglers. In addition, through on the job experience, Customs officers have acquired knowledge and expertise in detecting smugglers in action. Officers are often looking for narcotics when they choose passengers for examination. This may result in innocent passengers having to undergo a personal search.
Q: Did I fit the profile of a smuggler?
A: If all smugglers shared the same characteristics, it would be easy to identify them. Smugglers, however, are continually adapting their ways of bringing contraband into the U.S. Since all cases of smuggling vary, there is no "profile" of a smuggler.
The Customs Service does not tolerate discrimination. Customs officers are not permitted to use race, gender, religion, or ethnic background to select a passenger for examination.
Q: How much authority do officers have to carry out examinations?
A: Customs officers have been given special authority by federal statutes and court decisions. The United States Congress and the courts recognize the extreme importance of protecting the United States from narcotics. Officers may examine all conveyances (car, boat, airplane), all persons and their baggage, and all cargo entering the United States. They may also conduct personal searches of passengers.
Q: Why aren't all passengers examined?
A: Our aim is to make our Customs officers highly professional at finding smugglers. Although officers have the authority to examine everyone and everything entering the U.S., there are two reasons why they don't. First, most passengers entering the U.S. are law-abiding travelers. Second, Customs resources are limited. Therefore, Customs officers concentrate on finding the few passengers who are breaking the law. So, for most people entering the U.S. there is little or no examination.
Q: What can I do if I think the examination was not conducted in a professional manner?
A: If you are still in our facility while you read this, ask to speak with a supervisor immediately. Customs supervisors are responsible for ensuring that officers behave in a professional manner and treat all persons with dignity.
This facility may also employ a Customs Passenger Service Representative (PSR). The PSR is a supervisor specifically assigned to handle any concerns or questions you may have. Go to the Customs office and ask if there is a PSR.
If you have left the Customs facility, we still want to hear from you. You may write directly to Customs Headquarters. We will review your comments and respond in writing in a timely manner. If you provide your daytime phone number, we will also contact you directly.
Director, Passenger Operations
U.S. Customs Service
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20229
Q: What Good Does It Do?
Examinations help protect:
- You and your family from narcotics and dangerous drugs,
- Your job and employer from unfair foreign competition,
- Our agriculture industry from devastation by harmful insects and diseases,
- The health of you, your family, and community from contaminated foods and medicines,
- You from very serious criminal elements bent on entering this country,
- Random examinations allow us to validate compliance rates by the traveling public.
Of course, these are only a few of the many examples of what Customs accomplishes through our examination process.
If you are ever selected for an examination upon your entry into the U.S., ask yourself, apart from the inevitable inconvenience to you, was your examination conducted politely, professionally and with tact. If not, we wish to know about it. Please discuss any problem with a Supervisor or Passenger Service Representative prior to leaving the Customs area. If that is not possible or you do not want to discuss the situation at that time, please write to us via the port where the incident took place. We will investigate your concern and respond to you as quickly as possible. When you write, please include the date, approximate time of day, flight number (if applicable), and the badge numbers of the officers involved. If you feel that an examination deserves positive recognition, we would certainly enjoy hearing that also.