Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Not True Interpol Search 0.2 Seconds

_DSC3849Malaysia says checking Interpol’s database of stolen passports will delay immigration clearance. Interpol rebuts, claims search results take just 0.2 seconds in recent tests. Well, of course, we know that’s not true. There are other parts of the lookup process, overheads in the search that have been totally ignored. Checking the database of stolen passports obviously takes time, time that will definitely delay immigration clearance.

For example, immigration officers will surely take a second or two to locate the passport number. They will then have to dial a passport checking hotline at Interpol. The dialling and call connection may take 15 seconds. Then they need to speak to the Interpol officer, exchange some pleasantries and identify each other, easily taking 30 seconds.

Thereafter, they finally get down to business, with the Malaysian immigration officer reading off the passport number to the Interpol officer. Factor in language difficulties, and likely clarity (the lack thereof) in the long distance telephone connection, the passport number and the country is communicated across. That could take another 30 seconds. The Interpol officer would type the details as it is communicated, so that will not take any measurable time to input into the computer for the database search.

The actual database search just takes 0.2 seconds. But add up all the time prior to that, 77 seconds. The result needs to be communicated back, maybe 5 seconds. So there you have it. Total of 82.2 seconds to validate a passport.

Imagine you are in line at the Malaysian immigration. 82.2 seconds added to every clearance. There will be a catastrophic cascading effect in the queue delay, leading to massive overcrowding in the tourist arrival halls. Maybe, just maybe, you could not even get off the plane because of the queue.

As anyone who does load testing and performance testing will know, unit tests are often not meaningful. You need to do end-to-end testing. You can’t just pick out one part of the system, a very specific process step, say that it is very fast, and hence the entire end-to-end experience has no impact or will take negligible time.

The Malaysian immigration may well have considered all these problems, and decided they needed to clear queues more quickly. In fact, they probably even randomly omit some clearance steps, such as not stamping some tourists’ passports. (Yes, yes, we’ve heard so much about people entering Malaysia without getting their passports stamped!)

Alright, alright, I’m just joking. No offence to Malaysian friends.

I do, however, find it incredulous that Interpol can claim the 0.2 seconds search time. You see, I just tested the latency to Interpol’s website from my computer. The time-to-first-byte for my web browser to load their webpage is 0.368 seconds. Yes, sure the database on their end can perhaps spit out the answer in 0.2 seconds. But there are many more IT components in the entire system needed for any country’s immigration system to pull database search results from Interpol.

That’s not, however, an excuse to not search the database at all.

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