e-Borders civil liberties and Theresa May

e-Borders catches 2,800 criminals but Theresa May wants MORE….


07 April 2011

The UK Border Agency today hailed their new e-Borders surveillance system as a success. They cliam that suspects linked to hundreds of crimes have been captured after the UK Border Agency’s e-Borders monitoring system successfully targeted wanted criminals trying to cross the UK border.

IIt was just last July 2010 that the Government sacked Raytheon Systems Limited over the £750 Million contract which Immigration Minister Damian Green labeled as ‘extremely dissappointing’. The concept of e-Borders was a Labour Government initiative aimed at accessing the records and information of all passengers travelling through UK airspace, supposedly to control crime and maintain a control over terrorism. All information about passengers is gathered and then passed through to police and immigration authorities for comparisson with a so-called ‘watch list’ which then supposedly identifies wanted criminals and terrorists. The UKBA claim that in 2010/11 e-Borders alerts led to 2,800 arrests after the details of 126 million passengers were checked against ‘watchlists’ of suspects wanted by the UK Border Agency, police, SOCA and HM Revenue & Customs.

E-Borders was first piloted in 2004 and was intended to cover 95% of all traffic traveling through British airspace by 2010. It is without doubt running far behind schedule and the initial costs have been reviewed several times since the project commenced. Critics say that the system is over-complicated and relies on airlines collecting travel information about passengers and passing this onto the authorities in the UK before the pasengers flight has even set off on it’s journey to the UK. Like all such systems, e-borderss also gathers masses of other personal information about passengers and there are questions as to the legalities of this. At present the e-Borders system checks 90 per cent of flights from outside the EU and up to 60 per cent of those from within the EU to combat terrorist threats, spot organised criminals, stop immigration abuse and catch fugitives from justice.

The UKBA state in their announcement that in the last year the e-Borders system flagged suspects wanted in connection with a number of serious crimes and resulted in the arrest of people wanted in connection with18 murders, 27 rapes, 29 sex offences, and 25 violent crimes.

The UKBA also claim that since 2005 e-borders has also helped seize half a tonne of drugs, five tonnes of loose tobacco and nearly seven million cigarettes.

Visiting the National Border Targeting Centre (NBTC) in Manchester Immigration Minister Damian Green said:

‘Checking people coming to the UK is vital in helping secure the border by targeting known criminals, terror suspects and illegal migrants while gathering evidence against smugglers and people traffickers. ‘Traveller information has enabled the e-Borders to help keep our country safe with more than 8,400 criminals, including rapists and murderers, intercepted since it was established. ‘When the new National Crime Agency goes live from 2013 the Manchester based NBTC will be central to helping the UK Border Agency play its part. The city can be justly proud of its role at the forefront of the hi-tech fight to make the country’s border even more secure.

The hi-tech system is now operated by the Manchester based NBTC after the Government sacked Raytheon Systems Limited in a high profile fall-out with the company. The system electronically sifts information on passengers and crew before they even set foot on a plane. Operators in the control room check personal details against ‘watch lists’ and provide details to UK Border Agency officers about individuals wanted by law enforcement agencies.

The role of the e-Borders system continues to grow as the details of more individuals travelling to and from the UK are checked against lists of people wanted by the police or thought to pose a threat. Once the new National Crime Agency goes live from 2013 Manchester will be central to the new Border Police Command’s role of providing a single assessment of border related risks. The e-Borders system kicks in the moment you book a flight and your information is immediately shared across the network of law enforcement including details of those accompanying you, your destination and flight plans and even including the details of the credit cards being used to book the flights. The system is said to be highly sophisticated and allows for information to be compared across the range to detect ‘suspicious’ behaviour.

However this has still not satisfied the thirst for prying into your private life and today Theresa May, the Home Secretary called for the system to be spread out across Europe. The home secretary, Theresa May, is hoping that, when they meet on Monday, European justice and home affairs ministers will back a massive expansion of EU proposals, which as they stand would apply only to flights in and out of Europe and see travellers’ details anonymised after 30 days. This all comes from Theresa May, who was elected on a pledge to scale back the “database state”. She has been lobbying hard for the data – known as passenger name records (PNR) – to also be collected for flights within Europe, tripling the number of journeys tracked. She wants the data to be stored for up to six years. The European Parliament and German Government are the only barrier to be crossed yet as they are standing in the way of the programme claiming that it is an infringement of civil liberties. Britain has gone far ahead of what European law enforcement agencies consider to be sufficient border controls and is retaining passenger information for 5 years rather than the 30 day period that Europe suggests.

This is all good and safe, if we are stopping people from hijacking planes and committing terrorism offences. However; the wider Government abuses of the system to pry into the lives of every single airline passenger is a huge concern, not least given the modern Government approach to controlling every aspect of our lives. So next time you book that weekend flight to Barcelona, don’t overlook the fact that Big Brother is flying with you, every inch of the way, from seat number, credit card details, hotel address all the way through to what you bought in duty free.