The Home Office has finally launched a system for making exit checks of travellers at UK borders, a service originally intended as part of the troubled e-Borders system that recently cost the government £150m to settle a contract dispute.
Exit checks will record the details of all passengers leaving the UK, via air, train or sea. This will allow authorities to know whether people who entered the country have left when they are meant to. The move is an important part of UK immigration policy, as it allows the government to count the number of people entering and leaving the country.
Passengers will have their passports scanned and, by mid-June 2015, all their details will be verified against Home Office databases. Data will be collected by airport and seaport operators, who in the past have objected to providing such a function over concerns it would cause delays for departing passengers. The Home Office said the system was designed to “take into account the unique needs of businesses and the challenges faced in each port or on each route”.
Minister for security and immigration James Brokenshire said: “Port and travel operators are experts in their business and know their customers best, which is why we’ve supported them to design and trial the systems for collecting data in a way that will minimise the impact on customers.”
“The UK already has one of the most comprehensive systems in the world for recording who travels across our borders – delivering on our commitment to reintroduce exit checks will make us more secure and better informed than ever.”
Row over Raytheon’s e-Borders deal
Exit checks were intended to be part of the £750m e-Borders project, introduced in 2007. The system ran into controversy with supplier Raytheon sacked in July 2010 due to delays and problems in delivery. Raytheon subsequently sued the government over the cancellation of its contract – the ensuing legal debate lasted five years and ended in March 2015 when home secretary Theresa May announced the Home Office had paid £150m to Raytheon to settle the dispute.
Many of the IT systems supporting entry and exit into the UK are even older than the e-Borders project. IBM delivered a pilot project called Semaphore in 2004, and was due to be replaced by Raytheon but is still in use today. The Warnings Index database that underpins border control is nearly 20 years old.
A 2013 report by John Vine, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, found that Semaphore and Warnings Index were known to contain “critical system vulnerabilities”.
Work on the replacement for e-Borders – known as the Border Systems Programme – is ongoing, led by an in-house Home Office digital team, after the department’s original plans for replacing Semaphore and Warnings Index were vetoed by the Cabinet Office in 2013.
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