Government e-Borders Scheme Faces “Impossible” Schedule

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The Home Affairs Select Committee has said in a new report that the Government’s troubled e-Border’s programme is ‘impossible to achieve’ in the current timetable

The UK government’s troubled scheme to monitor the entry and exit of travellers in this country is facing more problems, after the Home Affairs Select Committee said the programme is ‘impossible to achieve’ in the current timetable.

Meanwhile the European Commission (EC) has also warned that passengers entering the UK from other EU countries will not be bound by the scheme if it breaks their own data protection laws.

Controversial e-Borders Programme

The e-Borders programme is costing £1.2 billion and aims to track all passengers against security watch lists, and if necessary stop certain people from arriving in the UK. However back in December problems began to surface after it was reported that the scheme, which was already facing concerns that it could breach EU rules over free movement, was also facing a row of data protection.

This meant that passengers would no longer be forced to hand over the information before they travel, and carriers would also not be ordered to refuse boarding of anyone who declines to pass on their details.

UK e-Borders Scheme
UK e-Borders Scheme

Essentially, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) would instead have to check those passengers who had not provided the data, only once they have actually arrived in the UK. In addition, the authorities would also not be able to refuse entry to any EU citizen, or even their family members, solely on the grounds that they refused to provide the information.

Home Affairs Committee Adds To Concerns

And now it seems that the Home Affairs Select Committee has waded into the controversy with a new report. It revealed that UKBA had send them a copy of a letter to them from the European Commission.

The EC’s letter stated that it will be happy with the programme only if “passengers who are EU citizens or their family members will not be refused entry/exit or incur sanctions in any way on the basis that their passenger data is unavailable to the UK authorities for whatever reason.”

“Carriers will not incur sanctions if they are unable to transmit data through no fault on their part,” the letter added, and “carriers would be instructed by the UK authorities not to deny boarding to travellers, regardless of their nationality.”

The EC letter also said that “carriers could not collect such data from passengers bound for the UK unless the local data protection authorities had confirmed this was compatible with national law.”

Impossible To Achieve

The Home Affairs Select Committee said that there remains much to do to resolve the various legal, technical, and logistical issues.

“We remain of the view that the current timetable will be impossible to achieve, and it is still not clear whether all or some intra-EU travel will have to be omitted from the programme, either on freedom of movement or on national data protection grounds,” the report said.

“We note the Government’s strongly-held view that the e-Borders project is vital to the security of the UK’s borders, in terms of combating illegal immigration, serious crime and terrorism. This being so, the fact that so many major difficulties with the programme remain to be resolved causes us serious concern. We recommend our successors to keep a close watching brief on this programme,” it said.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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