Public Release: 

Smart borders may be failing the people and countries they seek to protect

Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Since September 11th, complex advances in security technologies and the "Smart Border" accords signed by the three countries have emerged as a preferred solution to the problem of screening for terrorists and weapons of mass destruction while maintaining the flow of goods and individuals that come across North America's frontiers. A study published in the latest issue of Review of Policy Research uses a risk-centered approach to examine the effects of these policies on economic growth and sociocultural interaction, to critique the popular technological control systems, and to offer an initial, slightly pessimistic appraisal of their effectiveness.

Canada and Mexico are the top two trading partners of the US. More than 100 million people cross the US and Canadian frontier and over 300 million pass through the Mexican border annually. As US border control policy has taken a turn toward counterterrorism, author Jason Ackleson found that these changes create economic ramifications (specifically to one of the poorest areas in the country in the US-Mexico border region) and can disrupt the interaction of the neighbors. On a microeconomic level, delays in cargo crossing the borders slow down production and local border retailers suffer losses when the crossing of consumers is sluggish. In terms of counterterrorism, the three types of technologies being used (screening, biometrics, and information technology) are not as flawless and viable as projected. For example, one system now being promoted which seeks to screen cargo was rejected for cost and speed reasons in the 1990s by the very federal agencies that had contributed to its development.

The massive flows of goods and individuals across US borders, coupled with the still porous nature of US land boundaries, suggest that the current Smart Border policies only represent a limited innovation in border control and counterterrorism policy. "In the end, the Smart Border policy and its associated technological measures can be appraised as something of a work in progress with mixed implications for border communities," the author concludes.


This study is published in the current issue of Review of Policy Research. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article please contact

The Review of Policy Research, published on behalf of the Policy Studies Organization and the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies , is an international peer-reviewed journal devoted to the dissemination of research and insightful commentary on the outcomes and consequences of policy change in domestic and comparative contexts.

Dr. Jason Ackleson is an assistant professor in the Department of Government at New Mexico State University. He earned his Ph.D in International Relations at the London School of Economics as a Marshall Scholar.

Dr. Ackleson is available for questions and interviews.

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