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Eurostar frustrated by 'illegal' e-Borders scheme

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Government legal officials are still investigating whether aspects of the £1.2bn e-Borders scheme are illegal, a year after concerns were raised by Eurostar.

Lawyers for the cross-channel train operator believe the system will require it to break European data privacy laws. They have been pressing the UK Border Agency to clarify the situation since November last year.

At their most recent meeting in September, officials told Eurostar they were still mulling the problem.

"There's been no progress at all," said a spokesman for the firm. "They said they were still looking into it."

The ultimate goal of e-Borders is to centrally log every single traveller in and out of the UK, which will mean obtaining personal details before they travel.

The UK Border Agency wants carriers to collect the data abroad on its behalf. Eurostar believes this will mean driving an express train through French and Belgian data legislation, both of which implement the EU data laws.

"We believe, and the legal advice we have had is that it is not legal to export the sort of data required by e-Borders within the EU, and it is only legal to export that data outside of the EU," the firm's customer service director told the Home Affairs Select Committee back in June.

Even then, Eurostar expressed frustration at the government's lack of response to the possibility it will be "caught in a position that we are abiding by UK law but breaking EU law".

"I would feel very uncomfortable if I had waited seven months to respond to a letter from the UK Borders Agency on an e-Borders matter," Noaro said.

Eurostar also has more immediate commercial worries about e-Borders over the costs and potential for check-in delays.

Today the Home Office rejected Eurostar's concerns, apparently contradicting what the firm said it was told in September.

"We are confident that e-Borders is compatible with the European Data Protection Directive," said Brodie Clark, head of UK Border Force.

Air carriers already feed the system's Manchester operation centre with the details of millions of passengers before they fly.

Clark said: "We have already proven e-Borders is a success, with it running effectively on many routes for four years. We have been working with Eurostar and the carriers industry for the past two years, and have performed successful trials scanning 96 per cent of documents in seconds.

"We continue to work with carriers to avoid delays to passengers."

He added that e-Borders has led to more than 4,500 arrests for crimes "including murder, rape and assault and significant counter-terrorist interventions".

It's planned that e-Borders will log every single journey in and out of the UK by 2014. In June, ferry operators echoed Eurostar's concerns over the legality of its data gathering regime, and said they expect significant delays to the system as a result. ®

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