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e-Borders programme gears up

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The government is building a new data storage and processing centre near Manchester, as the £1.2bn e-Borders programme gears up to monitor every movement in and out of the UK.

According to the Sunday Times, an industrial estate in the Wythenshawe suburb will host the e-Borders Operations Centre (e-BOC) and its reams of data on who comes in and out of the country.

The data collected will include Passenger Name Records, which are created by airlines and can include payment information. Similar records will be pooled from ferry companies and the Channel Tunnel.

About 300 police and immigration officers will be on site to interrogate the database, along with a similar number of "technicians" to check travellers against various UK government and international watch lists.

The development of the new centre marks a significant escalation of the e-Borders programme, initiated in 2004 amid criticism of Home Office gaffes over how many economic migrants it had allowed into the UK.

A Home Office spokeswoman today confirmed the location, and said it would be fully operational "some time this year". It's planned that 60 per cent of movements in and out of the UK will be reported to the database by the end of this year, rising to 100 per cent by 2014.

The spokeswoman said the purpose of the e-Borders programme remained "counting people in and out of the country... with a security angle". The database will be manned by MI5 and tax officials, as well as the police, SOCA and UK Border Agency.

At present a pilot data centre known as JBOC in Hounslow, west London, records passenger data on selected "high risk" sites, such as the main international airports. The Wythenshawe site will harvest data from all UK border controls.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas said: "Our hi-tech electronic borders system will allow us to count all passengers in and out of the UK and targets those who aren't willing to play by our rules. Already e-Borders has screened over 75 million passengers against immigration, customs and police watch-lists, leading to over 2,700 arrests for crimes such as murder, rape and assault."

"This information is used for law enforcement purposes to detect serious criminals, fraud and other illegal activity - not to check where people go on holiday."

The Home Office said the database will however be used to track the movements of people deemed "potential threats to public security". ®

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