Costly UK e-Borders Programme Deleted Drug Smuggling Data

UK border Heathrow plane - Shutterstock - © Regien Paassen

Data management failures apparent despite £500 million spent so far on trying to keep terrorists and crooks out

The Home Office’s e-Borders initiative designed to record valuable data for police on those entering and exiting the UK has been criticised for a slew of failures, including the deletion of hundreds of thousands of records related to drug and tobacco smuggling.

A report from the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration said the e-Borders programme had not delivered many of the benefits promised in 2007 when it launched. That’s despite development having started a decade ago and £500 million spent.

This has led to “high-risk” individuals being allowed into the UK, such as terrorists and gang members.

Ukpassport-covere-Borders data problems

One of the most notable problems has been data management. The auditor found 649,000 alerts relating to potential drug and tobacco smuggling were deleted from the Semaphore system, even though they had been sitting unread for ten months. This “had a significant impact on the ability of staff at the border to seize prohibited and restricted goods”.

“It is no longer an aim of the programme to facilitate risk based controls, which would have seen the levels of immigration checks on arrival tailored to the perceived risk posed by passengers, nor has it delivered a system to count all foreign national passengers in and out of the UK,” said chief inspector John Vine.

“I was surprised that the use of e-Borders information to ‘export the border’, by preventing the arrival of a passenger because they had either been deported or excluded from the UK previously, was not happening.

“The Home Office should now define clearly what the aims of the e-Borders programme are ahead of the new procurement exercise, and be transparent about what e-borders will deliver and by when.”

The report also found the planned increases in passenger data collection had not been achieved, as only 65 percent of all passenger movements into and out of the UK were covered during the investigation.

Vine has now recommended a slew of actions for the Home Office to take. They largely focus on better data processing. One asks for the e-Borders team to ensure “advance passenger data is used to prevent the arrival of those clearly not admissible” to the UK.

The e-Borders programme was panned by the Home Affairs Committee last year, when it was noted the project had gone through various contractors and had to be changed because it did not comply with EU law. Millions of taxpayers’ money was said to have been wasted.

MPs sitting on the committee were hugely disappointed e-Borders had not been fully implemented when the Olympic Games hit London last year.

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