The Home Office has partnered with defence contractor BAE Systems to develop new data analytics capabilities for border management, with the goal of giving UK authorities the ability to conduct real-time risk assessments about people and goods moving across the border.
Under the partnership – which began on 21 December 2022 and runs until August 2025 – the Home Office’s Data Services and Analytics (DSA) unit will work with the BAE Systems Digital Intelligence division to streamline and augment Border Force’s threat detection and intervention processes via enhanced data sharing.
Known as project Cerberus, which forms part of the Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP), the analytics system will bring together a range of previously siloed data sets from industry and government so that the UK’s Border Force can access it all on a single unified platform.
The project also feeds into the UK government’s 2025 digital border strategy, which aims to digitally transform the country’s border control architecture.
According to a pre-procurement notice published by the Home Office in March 2022: “Cerberus targeting and analytics outcomes are delivered by six loosely coupled DSA products (the Cerberverse), that ingest, transform, enhance, match, risk assess border movements and then issue targets for intervention by frontline officers, as well as providing enterprise-wide search capability across all data.”
It added that Cerberus will move Border Force away from a “siloed, modal focus with variable targeting capability to [a] multi-modal focus with incrementally improving analytics and targeting capabilities, based around network analytics and ultimately machine learning”.
A separate project description further noted that “intelligence officers and operational teams will be able to analyse passenger and freight data across different transport modes, with more targeted interventions based on a richer assessment of threat and risk”. “This will increase threat detections and seizures while reducing nugatory interventions and increasing the flow-rate of legitimate traffic,” it said.
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Computer Weekly contacted the Home Office to ask what sources of data and information were being combined under the Cerberus project, but was directed to submit a freedom of information request instead.
The Home Office has said the capabilities will also enable government to securely connect and analyse data over a longer period to gain a better understanding of macro trends over time, helping to inform longer-term strategy.
“Technology sits at the heart of operations at the UK border,” said Dominic Gallard, director of Home Office Intelligence and senior responsible owner of the Cerberus project. “Our partnership with BAE Systems enables a more data-driven approach and provides our teams with high-quality information to support operational decisions. This helps us keep the UK safe by identifying high-threat movements of goods and people and interdicting them. It also speeds the progress of low-threat goods and people, thus unlocking efficiencies for Border Force and enabling UK Prosperity and Flow.”
Dave Armstrong, group managing director of BAE Systems’ Digital Intelligence, added that the partnership “will provide Border Force officers with accurate information upfront, speeding up processes and allowing them to focus on making critical decisions”.
A number of other companies are also collaborating with the Home Office on its Cerberus project.
In January 2022, for example, Public Technology reported that IBM had entered a £17m contract with the Home Office to support its Central Operations Platform (COP), an open, web-based platform running on Home Office managed infrastructure conceived in 2017 to tackle unsupported and decentralised IT that had grown in usage at UK borders.
As part of that four-year contract, Public Technology said IBM will be involved in integrating COP with Cerberus, with a focus on delivering “notifications to frontline Border Force officers and the passing of outcomes back to Cerberus to complete the intelligence feedback loop”.
According to government contracts flagged to Computer Weekly by public procurement data firm Tussell, a contract for the “Provision of Data Platform Support Services” was awarded to business consultancy firm SVGC on 16 January 2023, with Aker Systems and Capgemini UK acting as subcontractors.
The contract documents attached mention Cerberus on a number of occasions, although most of the information has been redacted.
At the end of January 2023, the Home Office announced the launch of Small Boats Operational Command (SBOC), a new Border Force unit set up to curb English Channel crossings.
As part of that announcement, the Home Office said SBOC will deploy a range of “new technologies” alongside 730 additional staff to bolster its existing surveillance capabilities, which it claimed will “aid our ability to track vessels on the water, identify pilots and help to bring those responsible to justice”.
In March 2022, the UK government came under fire from lawyers, human rights groups and migrant support organisations for spending tens of millions of pounds on border surveillance technologies, who told Computer Weekly they were being used to deter and help punish migrants crossing the English Channel.