UK Border Agency
8 August 2009
Dear Ms Homer
The danger exists with eBorders that UKBA misleads the public, brings the international passenger transport systems in the UK to a near-standstill and spends a fortune deploying biometric technology at home and overseas, while the borders remain less safe than they could be because front-line staff don't have the right equipment and/or the biometrics chosen for eBorders don't work reliably enough and/or they aren't admissible as evidence in court, while visa conditions are not enforced at home, while an internal passport system is perniciously introduced into the UK and while the personal data of UK citizens and others is disseminated out of control to agencies all over the world, when all the time border security could actually have been increased by using Interpol and EU databases that have been available to but ignored by the UK for nearly a decade.
That was the burden of my letter to Sir David Normington , Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, dated 16 April 2009. Mr Brodie Clark , Head of the Border Force, kindly replied on behalf of Sir David on 26 June 2009. A lot of questions remain unanswered nevertheless, and some new questions have arisen. These are tackled in nine sections below.
1 UKBA 10-point delivery plan
UKBA's 10-point delivery plan  was announced in a press release dated 24 February 2009. Point #7 is:
It is now August 2009. May I enquire if facial recognition technology has now been delivered to 10 terminals? If the plan has been followed, where are these 10 terminals? If not, may I enquire why not?
2 Facial recognition technology – smart gates
UKBA announced a six-month
of facial recognition technology at
The history of biometrics
based on facial geometry is an uninterrupted line of failure
Consistent with that, union leaders and UKBA staff have been
reported by the BBC ,
the Sunday Times 
and the Daily Telegraph
as saying that the biometric technology being tested is not
up to the job. UKBA deny these reports. But they do not publish
the results of the
3 Status of the smart gates initiative
In his letter dated 26 June 2009, Mr Clark states that:
Is the technology still being tested, as Mr Clark suggests, in which case the 24 February 2009 press release is surely misleading? Or are UKBA confident that it works, as the press release suggests? Which is it, please?
4 Visas – biometric registration centres
eBorders requires that non-EEA citizens record their
fingerprints as part of the application process for
The decision to admit non-EEA citizens, or to refuse admission, is based partly on the use of flat print fingerprinting technology. May I enquire what is the performance of the equipment being used? That is, for each tested matching threshold set on the flat print fingerprinting equipment, what are the corresponding false match and false non-match rates? How do these rates vary with the age of the applicants ? And with their race and their sex? What alternatives are there for people who are missing fingers?
According to the Home Office's July 2002 consultation document on entitlement cards  (paras.5.14, 33 and 51), evidence based on flat print fingerprinting is not admissible in court. Is this still the case? And if so, what happens if someone brings a case against UKBA, whether for granting a visa to a non-EEA citizen or for refusing one?
If the false match or false non-match rates are unacceptably high, and/or if visa decisions are based on inadmissible evidence, then the Home Affairs Committee are of course wrong to recommend more biometric registration centres. In that case, they will have missed the point – the technology is a waste of time and money, and should be dropped altogether.
These UKBA visas are related to the Identity & Passport Service's (IPS) proposed ID cards. They use the same biometrics, they rely on the same technology and they are open to the same problems.
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee were distinctly unimpressed with IPS's plans for ID cards. In their July 2006 report , the Committee declared themselves to be "concerned", "surprised", "regretful", "sceptical" and "incredulous" at the "confusion", "inconsistency" and "lack of clarity" of those plans. In particular, the Committee asked IPS to conduct large-scale field trials of biometrics before choosing which ones to rely on. Instead, IPS have chosen first and may or may not conduct trials second. It's back to front and UKBA may suffer the consequences.
5 Visas – card readers
On 24 November 2008, a Home Office press release  announced that:
On 30 November 2008, the Observer  reported that:
Do any universities, colleges, schools, hospitals, GPs, job centres, police forces, front-line UKBA staff, etc ..., have appropriate ID card readers yet? If not, how can ID cards secure the UK's borders, improve immigration control, reduce identity abuses, help legal immigrants to prove their right to be here or identify illegal immigrants?
Is it the case that the 24 November 2008 press release is no more than wishful thinking or fantasy on the part of the Home Office? If so, do you agree that the press release is misleading?
6 Interpol and Schengen – border-crossing
In December 2004, Ron Noble,
Secretary General of Interpol ,
expressed his surprise at not having his passport checked
as he came into the
Mr Clark kindly refers to this point in his 26 June 2009 letter:
Could you please clarify, front-line officers are now able to check instantly, but do they? In all cases? Or would Mr Noble be just as surprised today as he was in 2004? And is UKBA now making use of the EU database of 10 million lost or stolen passports? If not, why not?
In July 2007, after the
It is not clear whether this is covered by Mr Clark's answer. Does UKBA now check everyone against this Interpol list of 11,000 suspected terrorists? If not, why not?
And then there is the Schengen Information System (SIS). From the Observer , 1 February 2009:
Nine years after it became
possible, is the
7 eBorders – 53 questions
It has been reported since
November 2007 that, under eBorders, travellers will have to
answer 53 questions 
before being allowed to leave the
It was reported then, and it still is, that eBorders will lead to travel chaos . Has this problem been resolved? If so, how?
It was reported then, and it still is, that the collection and sharing of all this personal data may be illegal . Has this problem been resolved? If so, how?
According to the March 2007 joint Home Office-FCO paper describing the eBorders scheme , personal data may be distributed from the UKBA computer centre at Wythenshawe  to all or any of the following organisations. Is that still the case? How will UKBA keep control of that data? And how can passengers keep control of what is, after all, their data?
8 eBorders – where are they?
According to Liam Byrne and Lord Triesman's Foreword of the paper on eBorders:
eBorders are not the same as national borders. That is clear from the quotation above.
The difference is also suggested
when we hear that the provisions of eBorders will apply to
The Prime Minister talked of random searches at 250 of our busiest railway stations  in a speech on counter-terrorism, as though those searches are also a part of eBorders.
The term is not defined
by UKBA but it seems to an outsider as though an eBorder
is crossed anywhere where people have to use a passport or
a visa or an ID card to prove their right to
cross it. That's conventional enough in the case of
a flight from Gatwick to
As things stand, an eBorder could be anywhere Phil Woolas (or Joanna Lumley) says it is.
Can UKBA provide a better definition of "eBorder"?
9 Visas – enforcement
In April 2009, Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick had to resign after inadvertently revealing the details of an investigation into 12 suspected terrorists :
Do UKBA officers still allow people to enter the country despite their visa documents being all over the place? Are people who are breaking the terms of their visa by working instead of studying still allowed to stay? If eBorders is working, how did these 12 suspected terrorists manage to be in the country in the first place? Or is eBorders not working?
While she was Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith  embraced safeguards, openness, proportionality and common sense. She wanted to put them "at the heart of everything we do". So did Sir David Normington .
It is with some trepidation that I approach the Public Servant of the Year , but I look forward to your answers to the questions above and to discovering – what I seem to have missed – the safeguards, proportionality and common sense in eBorders.
cc Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chairman, Home Affairs Committee
Phil Willis MP, Chairman, Science and Technology Committee (from 1 October 2009)
Sir David Normington KCB, Permanent Secretary, Home Office
Brodie Clark, Head of the Border
John Vine CBE QPM,
Ron Noble, Secretary General, Interpol
James Hall, Chief Executive, Identity & Passport Service
 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldselect/ldeucom/106/106.pdf – see for example para.32