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Cabinet Office vetoed Home Office plans for 'critical' e-Borders replacement

Bryan Glick

Home Office plans for IT systems to replace ageing border security systems that contain “critical vulnerabilities” were vetoed by the Cabinet Office last year, Computer Weekly has learned.

The delay will raise further concerns over the long-term reliability of IT systems essential to securing the UK’s borders, and risk missing the 2015 targets for replacements to be in place.

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It is the second time plans to replace the Warnings Index and Semaphore systems have run into problems. The original e-Borders programme was terminated last year, four years after a £750m contract with Raytheon was cancelled.

The Home Office told Computer Weekly last month that the e-Borders functionality had been incorporated into a wider initiative, the Border Systems Programme (BSP).

Following a tender notice published in January 2013, plans for BSP were put before the Cabinet Office for approval in summer last year, but were rejected because they did not conform to the guidelines issued by the Government Digital Service (GDS).

They assumed the use of just one or two large suppliers and broke the procurement “red lines” established to keep all IT contracts below £100m.

The project was subsequently reviewed and a new approach was initiated that conforms more closely to the agile and digital principles established by GDS, using in-house software developers to build a prototype system.

BSP is essential to the future security of the UK’s borders. The two key systems currently in place are Warnings Index, developed by Fujitsu and understood to be at least 15 years old, and Semaphore, developed by IBM in 2004 and intended to be only a pilot project that would be replaced by the Raytheon-led e-Borders programme.

Raytheon is still pursuing legal action against the government over the cancellation of its contract.

A report last year by John Vine, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, said that Warnings Index and Semaphore contain “critical system vulnerabilities”.

The current systems do not support additional functions promised by the government, such as exit checks, which are needed to track people moving in and out of the country.

In response to a recent Parliamentary question, minister for security and immigration James Brokenshire said BSP is now taking a new approach and aims to deliver key functionality by March 2015.

“The procurement approach to replacing the primary border security elements of the Border Systems Programme will reflect broader government ICT and commercial strategy, and there will be no single, large supplier. The Home Office will lead development, with services procured from a range of providers, potentially including small and medium enterprises,” said Brokenshire.

“By March 2015 the Border Systems Programme aims to: complete resilience of all current business critical systems; develop replacement primary border security systems; provide additional capability to support commitments on exit checks; establish a programme for the next generation of radiological and nuclear detection (Cyclamen); continue the implementation of second generation e-Gates across the estate; develop and implement new freight targeting capability for sea containers; establish contracts to purchase new detection equipment; continue to assure live operations of existing systems.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “The UK is one of only a handful of countries in the world that operates a system which prevents individuals who pose a terrorist threat from flying to (and from) the UK.

“In keeping with government’s wider ICT and commercial strategy, we reviewed our procurement plans for updating and replacing our border system.  We are confident the new Border Systems procurement, which is currently on-going, will offer lower cost, early delivery, adaptability and broader scope. Existing systems will continue to run while the new capability is being developed.”


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