The WCO TEG-NII charts the path towards an enhanced version of the Unified File Format

28 November 2023

The WCO Technical Experts Group on Non-Intrusive Inspection (TEG-NII) held its 10th Meeting on 23 and 24 November 2023 in a hybrid format. The Meeting gathered, both online and at the WCO headquarters in Brussels, over 200 participants from 73 Member Customs administrations and 10 NII vendors, system integrators and stakeholders.

In his opening remarks, the WCO Director for Compliance and Facilitation, Mr. Pranab Kumar Das, highlighted the relevance of the work of the TEG-NII in contributing to the WCO efforts aimed at harnessing the power of technology and fostering innovation.

The TEG-NII discussions centered around two main topics – the Unified File Format (UFF) Development Programme and other NII-related matters.

The Group started its deliberations on the UFF with an open discussion on various aspects related to the deployment of UFF 2.0 and provided clarifications and guidance in that regard. Then the TEG-NII heard an update on the progress achieved under Phase 3 of the UFF Development Programme, including the intersessional discussion by the UFF Maintenance Virtual Steering Group of eight proposals for changes to the UFF. In this regard the TEG-NII endorsed the recommendation of the UFF Maintenance Virtual Steering Group to proceed with a major release of the UFF, namely UFF 3.0. The new version of the WCO-sponsored NII data format will incorporate changes that will support Application Programming Interface (API) to exchange NII data, will cater for better material discrimination for lower energy systems, will ensure better system metadata, will incorporate provisions on data from Radiation Portal Monitors (RPMs), as well as additional data to support machine learning algorithms. In the coming months, the UFF Development Team will work on the revised version of the Technical Specification for UFF 3.0 and the Secretariat will coordinate a changeover strategy to support the UFF major release and a communication to all WCO Members that would clearly articulate the rationale for the changes.

As to the governance of the UFF Development Programme, the TEG-NII considered requests by Symetrica, SGS and CASRA and decided to grant member status in the TEG-NII to Symetrica and observer status in the Group to SGS and CASRA.

Furthermore, the TEG-NII followed up on the discussion launched in its 9th Meeting in November 2022 on the practical aspects of the sharing by Members of X-ray/CT images, which is in line with the WCO Data Strategy. The TEG-NII was briefed of the relevant aspects of work of the WCO Working Group on Data and Statistics, and considered a list of meta-data elements that the industry considers essential for the development of automated threat recognition algorithms, and that need to be shared together with the X-ray/CT images to be used for the purposes of algorithm training. The TEG-NII highlighted the challenges to the sharing of images, stemming mainly from data privacy regulations and provided guidance on a possible way forward that would be based on exploring Members’ practices on bilateral sharing of X-ray/CT images.
The TEG-NII took note of the progress in the implementation of the TEG-NII Work Programme 2022 – 2025, which the Group had endorsed during its 9th Meeting. Under a dedicated agenda item, the Group considered proposals for update of the WCO Guidelines for the Procurement and Deployment of Scanning/NII Equipment (NII Guidelines) and decided to continue discussing the proposals in the intersession, taking into account the information shared under the various agenda items of the Meeting.

In a panel discussion Members and NII industry representatives explored the need and possible avenues for standardization of NII systems’ performance requirements. Moreover, based on presentations by China, Leidos, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the Sandia National Laboratories, GScan, Belgium and Thailand, the TEG-NII discussed various NII-related matters such as the deployment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the NII domain, detection technology based on atmospheric rays, evaporation-based detection, the deployment of radiation portal monitors by Customs and the use of CT scanners by Customs.

Similar to previous meetings, the 10th TEG-NII Meeting provided a forum for an open discussion between Customs and NII industry on challenges and potential solutions in the NII domain.