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Border Agency comes out with another e-Borders deadline

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The UK government has defended its under-fire Border Agency after MPs blasted the e-Borders passenger-scrutinising system as broken and its £9m iris scanners a waste of money.

The written response to a Parliamentary select committee's report on the agency does make some concrete promises including extending the e-Borders technology to cover maritime and railway passengers by 2014.

The traveller identification project has slipped some notable deadlines: by July 2011, the e-Borders system was collecting details of 55 per cent of passengers and crew on airlines, with no coverage of ferries or trains. The original target was to collect 95 per cent of passenger and crew details from everywhere by December 2010, and that could take another 2 years from now.

"We believe that the technical ability to collect data from the rail and maritime sector can be delivered by December 2014," the government report stated, although officials haven't worked out a way to deal with the data yet. "We are working closely with these sectors, and European partners, to find an operationally viable way to capture this data."

In response to the lack of confidence in e-Gates evinced by Border Agency staff - as well as the complaints from frustrated travellers - the government reiterated that the smart chip-checking gates are fine, and made some commitments to step up communications with front-line staff. They added that they'd improved the servicing contract for the eGates:

We work closely with our suppliers to ensure we provide a good e—Gate service and we have recently improved our service management contract to a 24/7 service. The resilience of the e—Gate system is achieved by having banks of e—Gates that allow the service to continue even when one gate develops a fault.

The government also batted off criticisms that the figures and data coming out of the Border Agency was so opaque and contradictory that even the agency's own CEO couldn't understand it, promising to be as transparent as possible.

And as for the £9m spent on iris scanners - withdrawn this year - and the stored eye scans of 5 million people who used them, the government repeated that both would be decommissioned this year:

The lifespan of any IT equipment is finite. IRIS is planned for closure because the system is close to the end of its useful life. IRIS images (not retinal scans), along with all personal data, will be destroyed six months after de—commissioning.

The Whitehall bods stuck to their story that the data gathered from the iris scanner trials was useful in helping them decide not to use Iris scanners any more: "We are currently developing a strategic plan for automation but it is likely that IRIS as a biometric will not be used." ®

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