Border controls boosted by new technology and unified structure

The first steps in the most sweeping changes to border security for decades have been taken with the signing of the contract for a passenger screening system which will form a major part of the new £1.2 billion UK Border Agency programme.

Nov 29, 2007
By Paul Jacques
Graeme Biggar

The first steps in the most sweeping changes to border security for decades have been taken with the signing of the contract for a passenger screening system which will form a major part of the new £1.2 billion UK Border Agency programme.

The electronic border security system will screen all passengers before they travel to the UK against immigration, customs and police watch lists. Successful trials of the new system have already led to more than 1,000 criminals being caught and more than 15,000 ‘people of concern’ being checked out by immigration, customs and the police.

The £650 million passenger screening contract was signed with a Trusted Borders consortia, headed by Raytheon, specialists in hi-tech security and defence systems. The US firm beat a rival bid from BT Group’s ‘BT Emblem’ group to provide the IT system connecting airports and ports to a central infrastructure.

The system will work alongside the global adoption of fingerprint visas designed to improve security at the UK’s borders.

The contract signals the roll-out of electronic security passenger checks across the country at international air, rail and sea ports, with all high-risk routes into the UK covered by mid-2009 and all journeys into the UK by foreign nationals.

The new Home Office UK Border Agency will be able to react to new threats much faster – and will have both a customs commissioner and a senior police officer represented on its board.

By integrating the work of Customs, the Border and Immigration Agency and UKVisas, overseas and at the main points of entry to the UK, the UK Border Agency will have the resources to strengthen the UK’s security through strong border controls beginning before travellers start for Britain.

The decision to establish a unified border force was first announced by the Prime Minister in July.

The award of the E-borders contract follows a highly successful trial, codenamed Operation Semaphore, which saw police forces across the UK make 1,300 arrests.

John Donlon, assistant chief constable of Thames Valley Police and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) lead on ports policing, said: “The high number of arrests linked to Semaphore alerts demonstrates a visible measure of success. In addition, significant contributions have been made in support of investigations and the protection of the vulnerable.

“The trial has underlined the potential that this system has in supporting the multi-agency fight against terrorism and criminality.”

Martin Peach, director of Detection at HM Revenue and Customs, added: “The awarding of this contract will provide a further boost to the integrity of the UK’s borders. It will also make an important contribution to protecting the country’s borders from those seeking to smuggle Class A drugs, illicit and counterfeit cigarettes and other items that could otherwise cause untold harm to the UK.”

The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said that a unified border force means a stronger British border. “All travellers to Britain will be screened against no fly lists and intercept target lists and, together with biometric visas, this will help keep trouble away from our shores,” she said.

“As well as the tougher double check at the border, ID cards for foreign nationals will soon give us a triple check in country. Together this adds up to some of the most advanced security anywhere on the globe. These are the most sweeping changes to our border security for decades.”

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