E-borders Q&A: why scheme is 'failing to stop terror suspects'
Government e-borders scheme only monitoring two-thirds of people coming in and out of the UK
THE government's e-borders scheme, designed to monitor everyone who comes in and out of the country, has a number of flaws and is not working according to inspectors. In the report, published today, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, John Vine, found that the scheme has had a limited impact on controlling immigration and tracking terror suspects.
So what exactly is the e-borders scheme?
Set up by Tony Blair in 2003, the scheme aimed to collect advance passenger information from all people entering and leaving the UK so it could be checked against security watch lists. The electronic system, which has cost a total of £537m since 2007, gives border officers access to passport details such as a person's name, date of birth and nationality so they can carry out security checks ahead of each journey. A target was set to collect data on at least 95 per cent of passenger movements by December 2010.
What did the report find?
The inspection, carried out last year, found that only 65 per cent of passenger movements were covered. This was apparently due to legal difficulties in collecting passenger information on European flights and a failure to test the e-borders concept on rail and sea routes. Security services, counter-terrorism officers and the police told Vine that full 100 per cent coverage was vital to track the movements of terror suspects and other national security targets in and out of Britain. Vine also found that almost 650,000 records relating to potential drug and tobacco smuggling had been deleted. This apparently had a “significant impact” on the ability of border staff to seize prohibited goods. Parts of the report had been redacted by the Home Office. It is the second report from Vine that has been censored in this way.
Were there any positive findings?
Yes, inspectors said the e-borders scheme had led to thousands of arrests for offences including murder and rape. Vine said he was pleased that the e-borders "high-profile alerts" system was being used to intercept "high-risk individuals" - which could mean terror suspects, war criminals and those who have previously been deported from Britain - at the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. But he pointed out that this was not happening at any other port or airport.
What is the Home Office saying?
The Home Office insists UK border technology is the most advanced in Europe. It says advance passenger information is now taken from 78 per cent of all people travelling to the UK by plane and 100 per cent of people travelling from outside the EU by plane. However, the immigration minister, Mark Harper, says the department is working to improve its coverage further and will take the findings of the report into account. It played down the importance of 650,000 records that had been deleted, saying that anyone who had committed a serious offence would already be on a separate "warnings index" and intercepted on arrival.
Vine says a fundamental re-think is needed for the programme and wants the Home Office to be transparent about what it will deliver and by when. All flights from outside the EU are already part of the e-borders scheme, with ports and railway stations due to follow next year. EU flights are due to be covered by 2015. However, this depends on reaching agreements with other nations. The programme has also been hampered by a legal dispute in which the original contractors, Raytheon, sued the Home Office for £500m after being sacked in 2010 for an "extremely disappointing" performance. The Home Office has submitted a counter-claim in a dispute that is expected to take many more months to resolve. ·