Border Agency Data Failures Could Let Crooks Into UK

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Agency failing to make adequate checks on criminal suspect databases, MPs claim

The Border Agency is sitting on an epic backlog of applications to enter and reside in the UK, largely thanks to its poor data handling, the Home Affairs Committee said today. That weak data management could be letting known criminal suspects into the country too.

MPs claimed the total number of pending cases stands at 312,726, whilst 59,000 applications had not even been loaded onto the Border Agency’s case information database. At the current rate it will take 24 years to clear, according to committee chair Keith Vaz MP.

Border Agency gets a beating

British Passport with Microchip“It appears more like the scene of a Whitehall farce then a Government agency operating in the 21st Century,” said Vaz. “No sooner is one backlog closed, than four more are discovered.

“We are worried that given UKBA’s poor record of being transparent with the Committee, the delays we know about could only be the tip of the iceberg.

“UKBA must publish a definitive list of all its backlogs and senior staff should not receive any bonuses until the backlogs are cleared.”

Over six years the Agency repeatedly supplied the Committee scrutinising its activities with incorrect information about the size of the asylum backlog, and the checks being carried out to try to trace applicants, the report suggested.

It was particularly concerned that a Police National Computer check could not be completed on  328 cases, because of poor quality data, whilst 28 cases had such poor data they could not be checked against the Home Office Watchlist of criminal suspects.

There were 3,077 cases with hits on the Police National Computer database, but with no contact information to enable the case to be progressed. The Comittee said it was “puzzled” at the lack of contact data.

“Authorities do not have contact details for individuals who are awaiting prosecution or who have recently been in contact with the police,” the report read, noting a serious failure to record applicants in general.

“We know that there are a large number of failed asylum and immigration applicants living in the shadows in the UK who are unlikely to have records on many of the databases searched by the Agency.

“Based on evidence seen so far we do not believe that the checking programme, even when properly completed, can offer reassurance that all 80,300 applicants whose cases the Agency has now closed have left the UK.”

There could be thousands of people in the UK whose applications remain in “closed” archives but whom the Agency have not been able to locate, the report warned.

MPs also expressed concern about an outsourcing deal with Capita, which is dealing with the Migration Refusal Pool backlog. Capita’s contract “amounts to telephoning or sending text messages to individuals asking them to leave”, cleansing the Agency’s data in the process. Given the contract is costing government, and therefore taxpayers, £2.5m and £3m, the committee could not understand why the Agency was not able to do this on its own.

In January, the Border Agency and Capita came in for some more criticism. Thanks again to dodgy data records, a number of people were wrongly texted or emailed and asked to leave the country.

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