UK & World News
E-Border Review: Thousands Of Alerts Deleted
More than 649,000 alerts relating to potential drug and tobacco smuggling into the UK were deleted without being read, an inspection into border controls has found.
The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine, discovered the alerts were erased from a government system when he was examining the multimillion-pound e-Borders programme.
The border check system was set up by the Home Office 10 years ago to collect Advanced Passenger Information (API), which is then checked against terror and criminal watch lists.
The e-Borders programme is viewed by the Government as the front line in the battle to stop criminals and terrorists from entering or leaving the UK.
But Mr Vine found that records relating to drug and tobacco smuggling were deleted over a 10-month period due to "poor data quality and the prioritisation of immigration over customs work".
He said: "These deletions had a significant impact on the ability of staff at the border to seize prohibited and restricted goods and deal with those responsible."
The deletions amounted to three quarters of all the customs work completed at National Border Targeting Centre (NBTC), the hi-tech hub where watch list checks on passengers entering and leaving Britain are carried out, his report said.
The inspector also found the e-Borders programme had not delivered planned increases in passenger data collection, with only 65% of all passenger movements into and out of the UK covered, due to complications surrounding European law.
Mr Vine said: "Despite being in development for over a decade, and costing over half a billion pounds, the e-Borders programme has yet to deliver many of the anticipated benefits originally set out in 2007.
"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."
Immigration Minister Mark Harper said Mr Vine's findings would be taken into account, but he said improvements had been made.
"Border Force - which the Government split from the UK Border Agency in 2011 - is making significant improvements in its performance," Mr Harper said.
"The 2011 Vine Report revealed that border security checks had been waived without ministerial authorisation consistently since 2007.
"Today, there is a clear operating mandate and all checks are carried out.
"A year ago, the Border Force had trouble with excessive queues at airports. Today, 99% of travellers are cleared within the service standards we've agreed.
"The security of the border is now at the heart of everything Border Force does.
"We have the best coverage of any country in Europe but we are working to improve our coverage further."
But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said border control was in "chaos".
"The Home Secretary must urgently explain why hundreds of thousands of possible drug-smuggling records were deleted in 2012 without having ever been read," Ms Cooper said.
"She needs to stop drug-smuggling information being deleted and get the proper border controls in place, rather than relying on divisive gimmicks like ad vans instead.
"It is an outrage that drug smugglers have been able to get away with it because basic information was never acted on."
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