Customs ups contraband tracking tools

Australian Customs and other law enforcement agencies will get a technological boost to surveillance systems soon as new networks come online at the organisation.

A new radio communications network in the Torres Strait region is expected to be operational by October or November this year and a national, closed-circuit television network, linking Australia's highest risk ports, is likely to start rolling out in New South Wales in September.

Customs is also interested in being involved in a national monitoring system and database which will be used to track, monitor and identify known drug traffickers across the country.

The idea of a collaborated tracking and monitoring system was one of the major recommendations to come out of the recent National Drug Strategy Conference held in Adelaide.

John Kerlin, director of border technology at Australian Customs, said the projects will put Customs at the cutting edge of technology.

"There is a need to be able

to move people and goods quickly across the borders . . . while we use things like intelligence to target suspects, you also need to apply the latest technology to help in that regard," Kerlin said.

Customs is close to starting installation of its television network which is a national grid to monitor waterfronts and ports across Australia, he said. A 24-hour national monitoring centre, based in Melbourne, and 30 of the highest risk ports will be connected to the network.

"This will provide a very effective means of monitoring the waterfront for Australian Customs," Kerlin said.

"[It] can be used by other law enforcement agencies but will have some very strict and stringent privacy considerations applied to it."

Following a detailed evaluation process over the last 12 months, Customs is close to signing a supplier to provide equipment and a contractor for the installation of the network is expected to be announced next week.

Kerlin said work is likely to start on the network in New South Wales in September, with the final state coming on line in April next year.

Customs is also preparing to bring online a new radio communications network for the Torres Strait region.

As part of the government's National Illicit Drug Strategy, Customs has enlisted Motorola to build a secure standards-based radio communications network based on UHF digital equipment. The deal is said to be worth around $4.8 million.

The organisation currently operates a UHF system for its local communications and a high frequency (HF) long-range communications system between boats, offices, vehicles and planes across the country.

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