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UK gov pilots passenger tracking in fight against terror

Project Semaphore

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The UK government yesterday announced plans to introduce electronic embarkation controls at UK ports by the end of the year.

The £15m pilot scheme - called Project Semaphore - is the first phase of a broader e-Borders programme which aims to strengthen border controls by recording people as they travel into and out of the UK. The technology has been in development since early summer.

Project Semaphore will kick off by targeting six million passengers a year who travel on "high risk" international air routes to and from the UK. It will use advance passenger information supplied by airlines before their arrival "to screen and record individuals as they enter and leave the UK". This information is checked against a database of suspects.

e-Borders is almost identical to the US Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program which likewise places a heavy emphasis on technology in the fight against terrorism. By 2008 e-Borders will involve the recording of all movement into and out of Britain and provide a "comprehensive passenger movement audit trail".

In common withthe Home Office's ID card scheme the stated purpose of the programme is to combat illegal immigration and aid counter-terrorism efforts. e-Borders is also likely to be controversial, with questions about its effectiveness in combating terrorism, cost and possible delays to passengers likely to feature prominently.

Home Secretary David Blunkett said e-Borders will work alongside biometric ID cards from 2008 onwards. "This will further secure the UK's borders by efficiently recording people travelling into and out of the UK, using airline reservation information and capturing passengers' biometric data. This will be a modern, high-tech replacement for the outdated paper embarkation controls which were removed in 1994 and 1998.

"Project Semaphore, which will be underway by the end of the year, is a key first step in putting in place comprehensive electronic analysis of passenger travel data, which will be crucial to being able to register entry and exit without gross inconvenience to passengers," he added. ®

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