The government plans to spend £1.2bn on biometric technology and staff to catch illegal immigrants and others undesirables at UK borders. But it has postponed a framework procurement programme for a national identity card.
The first contract for iris recognition equipment, worth £2.8m, has gone to French defence and security equipment supplier Sagem. Two units will be installed at Heathrow Airport's new Terminal 5, and more may be installed at other entry points, the Home Office said.
By the end of 2007 frontline staff at all major ports will be able to check biometric data in travel documents against the passenger presenting the document. it said.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said, "We are creating a new frontline (e-Borders) with police-like powers focused on securing the UK's borders against terrorism, illegal immigration and organised crime."
The cost of passports has more than doubled over the last two years. The Home Office said no new money will be raised to implement the e-Borders system. "Our new visa charging arrangements give us the financial flexibility to make these commitments," it said.
e-Borders will help give effect to Prime Minister Gordon Brown's national security strategy announced last week.
The PM said all visa applicants will need biometric visas within nine months. Immigrants from high-risk countries already need biometric visas.
Commercial carriers and owner/operators of all vessels will have to submit detailed passenger, service and crew data before they leave for the UK. This will be checked against watch-lists, analysed, risk-assessed and shared between the Border & Immigration Agency, Customs, Police and UK Visas UK border agencies, the Home Office said.
Mr Brown said UK citizens would carry biometric ID cards from 2009 and foreign nationals coming to the UK for more than six months will need a biometric ID from the end of 2008. This would "prevent people already in the country using multiple identities for terrorist, criminal or other purposes", he said.
However, James Hall, head of the Identity and Passport Service, said government was not yet moving forward on a tender to run a procurement programme for the national ID card. The tender was issued in April and closed at the end of June.
"We had hoped to have started by now, but the time is not right," he said, Hall added he did not have a time scale for when there would be further movement on the contract.
The biometric part of the pilot e-Border project, Semaphore, follows-on from the miSense project to use biometrics and document scanners to authenticate passengers and control their movements that ended earlier this year.
Now implemented at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, Semaphore has led to 1,050 arrests for different offences, the government said.
Immigration authorities recorded 29 million passenger movements in and out of the UK in 2006. This led to 13,000 individuals being flagged for further checks and the subsequent arrests.
The new technology lets immigration staff scan biometric data in new e-passports. This will give them more confidence about the identity of people entering the UK, while allowing fraud and forgery checks to be undertaken quickly and securely, the government claimed.
The new equipment includes a portable iris recognition immigration system (IRIS), fingerprinting and passport scanning technology. Over 100,000 travellers have enrolled on a live demo IRIS system at Heathrow.
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