Friday 18 December 2009

Border Control

Immigration comes in at third in voter's list of concerns, behind the economy and crime, so it's no surprise that grappling (or pretending to) this issue is a government priority, often with patchy results.

e-Borders is a flagship Government immigration policy that was relaunched in 2007. It's aim was to log and screen 100 million passenger movements by April 2009 and 95 per cent of all border crossings by the end of 2010.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne said at the time:

"We're creating an overseas border control with tougher checks before travellers board a train, plane or boat for Britain. All our tests show it works and there's over 1000 arrests to prove it. Now we need to go further with full scale screening of travellers.

"The electronic-Borders programme will provide a critical aid to security and counter terrorist work. By locking passengers to their identity we will create a new offshore line of defence, helping genuine travellers but stopping those who pose a risk before they travel."
Only one small problem: the EU.

A report released yesterday by the Home Affairs Committee (not yet online) said the policy was likely to be illegal under EU law.

A EU member state cannot ask for more details other than those on a passport, or other identity documents, and this would be infringed by the e-borders scheme.

So, in order for e-Borders to be ruled legal by the EU, the Government has been forced to make a number of concessions, notably that the scheme should be voluntary, thus undermining the entire effectiveness of the whole system.

The Times reports:

A letter from the Commission to the Home Office also made clear that the Government had given an assurance that it would not bar EU citizens from entering the UK.

The letter said that passengers from the EU or members of their family would not be stopped from entering the UK if their personal details were not available to the British border authorities.

The concessions offered by the Government means that it can no longer insist on obtaining the details of passengers and crew in advance of people travelling to the UK.

Of course it's taken the Government 2 years and over a £1billion wasted before it's woken up to this rather obvious fact. But then there's nothing this Government likes better than throwing lots of money away at unworkable IT systems.

As it happens I'm rather pleased it's failed. Not only can this Government not be trusted with data, but the system will inevitable be used for other purposes other than the one it was designed for, like the RIP Act.

But that's not the point, the system should have failed because I changed the Government via the ballot box, not because unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels say so.

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