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£1.2bn e-Borders data mountain spun as gov bonanza

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The UK Home Office "e-borders" database scheme continues to march forward, with the government announcing last week a £1bn splurge investment and trumpeting successes thus far.

The basis of e-borders is a requirement on airlines, ferry companies etc to submit comprehensive details of all passengers and crew to be carried in advance of any journey into or out of the UK. Names and details are then compared with "national and international watch lists".

If the databases flag people up, various courses of action can be taken. In the case of people thought likely to become illegal immigrants, the UK simply indicates its unwillingness to receive the person from the airline. Huddled masses worldwide yearning to live like kings on British benefits - or to do shitty jobs for low pay, it makes never no mind - get sent homeward to think again.

"Airline liaison officers have stopped nearly 180,000 people from boarding planes in the last five years. That's the equivalent of two jumbo jets a week," boasts the government.

There was no word on how many of the 180,000 were repeat attempts, or how long it took people to learn the need for a cheap foreign fake ID to go with the comparatively expensive air ticket.

"All our tests show it works," Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said. "And there are more than 1,000 arrests to prove it. Now we need to go further, with full-scale screening of travellers."

Byrne said the plan creates "a new, offshore line of defence - helping genuine travellers, but stopping those who pose a risk before they travel".

The scheme is still just being tested, but already 29 million passengers have been "screened", and more than a thousand were arrested as a result - "for crimes as serious as murder, rape and assault".

But it's not just about beating back the starving, perhaps politically oppressed, 0.003%-criminal hordes. According to government plans, e-borders might come close to paying for itself.

The Guardian reports that Home Office penpushers have throught of several ways to turn the planned monster datastream into black Treasury ink.

Under one plan, any miscreant who had failed to pay court-ordered fines would find themselves turned back at the airport if they then tried to travel abroad. The Guardian noted that almost half a billion in fines is currently owing, and this rises to £787m if unpaid confiscation orders are included.

There were also schemes for manacling visiting foreign scumbags who refused to pay NHS hospital bills, or perhaps - given the cost of imprisonment and the lack of room in UK jails - just refusing to let them go home until they paid up. That one sounds particularly clever; presumably it will lead to a rash of would-be illegal immigrants wantonly injuring themselves in the arrivals lounge and blatantly refusing to pay the resulting hospital bills, thus tricking the government into letting them stay.

There were also plans to use e-borders to unmask those who falsely claimed non-domiciled or non-resident status to get out of paying taxes, perhaps raking in as much as £2bn a year. Apparently, there are also large numbers of people still claiming benefits despite having left the UK, who could be profitably mulcted by Her Majesty's civil servants.

At times, e-borders appears to operate in a simple way: it assumes that what people want is probably bad in some way. If those overseas want to be in the UK, e-Borders will stop them coming. If people already here want to get out, it will be used to prevent that too.

Still, if the Home Office is right, e-borders should be able to pay for itself and more - indeed, should turn a thumping profit. Surely, then, there's no need to pay for it. There ought to be companies queuing up to fund such an obvious private-finance goldmine. ®

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