Software tools help identify terrorist suspects.
Posted Jan 30, 2002
By allocating nearly half of his state of the Union address this past Tuesday to the war on terrorism, President Bush is sending a clear message: terrorism will not prevail. To do this, the government and the private sector are required to work together in ways they have never done before. Enter Vality Technology Inc., a provider of data quality software and services based in Boston.
After the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Nora McGuinness, vice president of marketing at Vality, insisted there must be a way to track known terrorists through the use of the airlines' customer databases. She approached Stephen Brown, vice president of product strategy at Vality, with the idea and by November 5, Vality released Vality Veri-Quest, which matches government lists of "wanted" terrorists and criminals to transactional and other customer records to pinpoint and track possible suspects. Vality Veri-Quest works in batch and real-time companies and charitable organizations to easily comply with the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC ) requirements for reporting and blocking suspects' transactions. It also enables government agencies and companies such as airlines to identify possible suspects on the spot.
"After September 11, I had a conversation with Stephen about why the airlines didn't pick this up. There was a pattern with the terrorists. And where there's a pattern we can be used," says McGuinness.
As homeland security measures are enforced, more companies and organizations are required to check their list of customers against the OFAC list, which consists of names of terrorist suspects.
"The OFAC list is a list of known terrorists and drug dealers that are suspected of providing funds. It's the black list. If you are a bank, they want you to process your existing customer list against the OFAC list. Banks need to do this to spot terrorist activity and freeze accounts," says Brown.
Due to a heightened sense of security, the OFAC list, Brown says, went from being updated on a monthly basis to a weekly basis. Additionally, more organizations are required to check their databases against the OFAC list for security reasons. Most recently, Brown says, universities are being asked to check their list of foreign exchange students on the OFAC list to make sure known terrorists are not infiltrating U.S. schools.
For schools and organizations to compare their student lists or customer databases to the OFAC list of terrorist suspects, Vality uses its probabilistic matching technique to identity and locate terrorist suspects.
"[Probabilistic matching] is justifiable and can be upheld in the court of law," says Brown.
The probabilistic matching is not only used to stop terrorists and drug dealers. It is used to clean and match customer data to help reduce overhead costs and improve revenues.
"Even good data can produce wrong answers when used differently than originally intended. You may not have bad data but it may not be well suited for what you're doing," says Brown.
There are various reasons for discrepancies in customer data. When customers get married and change their name there's a discrepancy in the data. If a customer has a mobile phone, a home phone, and another home phone with a different area code, because the phone company added another area code to accommodate the demand for more phone numbers, there are discrepancies. "Neither record is wrong but they don't come together," says Brown. "This necessitates putting in place a filter process to take the data you need to use to populate the system and reduce the level of semantics."
One of Vality's products that use probabilistic matching is INTEGRITY, which investigates, analyzes, and standardizes customer data. INTEGRITY gives customers "control over international names and addresses and related data including complex descriptive and comment fields --and discover relationships (like households) among them. As a result, INTEGRITY enables you to view data as related information about individual and business customers, patients, providers, employees, subjects of studies, taxpayers, and other entities - for a competitive advantage," according to Vality.