Border Force’s data system 'at risk of collapse'

The Border Force is carrying out checks on all passengers arriving into the UK on an inadequate system that is at risk of collapse, according to MPs on the influential Public Accounts Committee.

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The Border Force is carrying out checks on all passengers arriving into the UK on an inadequate system that is at risk of collapse, according to MPs on the influential Public Accounts Committee.

The committee’s latest report states that the ‘Warning Index’ system was set up in the 1990s with a seven year life span, making it over a decade out of date. 

The Home Office told MPs that it is strengthening the Warnings Index in the short term through a contract with Fujitsu, but it was unable to provide a date for when problems would be resolved and the aging system would be replaced.

“There are worrying gaps in the intelligence data available to the Border Force and its IT systems are not up to the job,” said Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee.

“The Warnings Index, the system used to check all arriving passengers, is out of date and at risk of collapse but it is unclear how and when it will be replaced. Progress depends on development of the e-Borders programme but that is currently rated amber/red by the Major Projects Authority.”

It is hoped that e-borders will allow the government to track almost all non-European Union nationals arriving in the UK and check passengers against security watch-lists.

A recent report by John Vine, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, also found that the e-borders system is relying on the original pilot Semaphore technology, which was initially developed by IBM in 2004.

However, the government has been in disupte and is now locked into a binding arbitration process with Raytheon, which was contracted to develop upon IBM’s pilot after the Home Office cancelled the £750 million deal in 2010.

MPs on the PAC also reported this week that the Border Force is facing problems with its Centaur system, which holds data on customs offences. It found that the system had generated a large amount of low-quality data which was clogging up the system and the department said that this was unmanageable because it damaged analysts’ ability to use intelligence to target individuals.

To tackle this problem the Border Force block-deleted 649,000 matches relating to possible drugs and tobacco smuggling without checking them first. It estimates that it lost out on 200 seizures as a result.

Finally, MPs found that the department has placed increased demands on its IT because it plans to introduce 80 percent exit checks of commercial air, rail and maritime passengers by 2015. The PAC’s report states that the plans are “very ambiguous given that the specification has not been finalised for the new technology required”.

The Home Office has yet to issue tender documents for this new technology and as a result MPs believe that the 2015 deadline is “unrealistic”.