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Home Office e-borders programme still using pilot IT system from 2004

Bryan Glick

The Home Office e-Borders programme is still using a pilot system developed in 2004, three years after the department cancelled a £750m contract for the full IT project.

The e-Borders programme was first commissioned in 2003 to improve the use of information to track people moving in and out of the UK’s borders. The aim was to conduct checks on travellers at the point of embarkation to the UK rather than on arrival in the country.

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A pilot project called Semaphore was delivered by IBM in 2004, and was due to be replaced by the Raytheon-led Trusted Borders consortium. But that deal was cancelled in July 2010 due to continued delays in delivery of key milestones. Raytheon is currently suing the government over the cancellation of the contract.

At the time, former immigration minister Damian Green said that Raytheon would be replaced by a new supplier "as a matter of urgency".

But a report into e-Borders by John Vine, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, revealed that a new supplier is not due to be chosen until later this year.

As a result, e-Borders is still using two systems – Semaphore and the Home Office Warnings Index – that were known to contain “critical system vulnerabilities”, according to the report. Work to address the problems is “progressing well”, said Vine.

The Warnings Index database itself is understood to be about 15 years’ old.

The report also highlights failings caused by the numerous IT systems and databases still in use, which contain information relevant to identifying travellers that are on warning lists. Other systems include HM Revenue & Customs’ Centaur watchlist and the Police National Computer.

Overall, Vine found the e-Borders has failed to deliver on many of its planned benefits – in particular, only 65% of all passenger movements into and out of the UK are being covered by the programme.

“The e-Borders programme has been in development for over a decade now, and has cost nearly half a billion pounds of public money, with many millions more to be invested over the coming years,” said Vine.

“The e-Borders programme has yet to deliver many of the anticipated benefits originally set out in 2007… 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.”


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