MPs: Ancient UK Border Force systems let GANGSTERS into Blighty
Creaky intelligence system flogged for three times its designed lifespan
The UK Border Force relies on a 20 year old IT system which is on the verge of collapse to secure Britain's borders, a government report has revealed.
The warning is contained in a report imaginatively called "The Border Force: securing the border" produced by the Public Accounts Committee.
It found that private jets were being let into Britain without adequate checks on who was inside, whilst lorries arriving in Britain are able to trundle out of Dover docks without inspections to reveal whether illegal immigrants are hiding within.
“There are worrying gaps in the intelligence data available to the Border Force and its IT systems are not up to the job,” said Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee.
"The force neglected to examine freight for illicit goods, neglected to check lorries in Calais for concealed illegal entrants, and failed to check passengers coming into Britain on private planes or boats, potentially letting billionaire gangsters off the hook."
The UK Border Force relies on a system called The Warnings Index, which was set up way back in the 1990s. It is now run ragged, having been used for nearly three times its projected seven-year lifespan.
Although Fujitsu have been roped in to help shore up this crumbling system, the Border Force has not yet set a date for completion of the urgent remedial work.
The Border Force also admitted there were serious problems with the Centaur system, which holds data on customs offences.
This system was stuffed full of "low quality data" which made the database so unwieldy that staff had to block delete almost 650,000 records relating to tobacco and alcohol smuggling without first checking to see if they contained actionable data. It is estimated that at least 200 of the records contained enough intelligence to lead to seizures.
The report's authors demanded that the Border Force get its house in order.
"The Border Force's IT systems are inadequate and its future development plans seem to be unrealistic," it continued. "Frontline staff rely on an unstable data system — the Warnings Index — to carry out checks at the border. This system is at risk of collapse, but it is unclear when or how this system will be replaced."
The IT systems are likely to come under even more strain in the coming year, because the Home Office wants to enforce exit checks on 80 per cent of commercial air, rail and maritime passengers by April 2015.
"The plans are very ambitious given that the specification has not been finalised for the new technology required, and the Border Force has, as yet, not issued tender documents for provision of this technology," the report continued.
Replacing the current Warnings Index system involves beefing up the Border Systems programme (formerly known as e-Borders) which has been given a desultory amber/red rating by the Major Projects Authority
The report also slammed the Border Force's arrangements for small private jets entering the UK. The force is required to check on “high-risk” private flights, which account for a massive 25 per cent of all private flights.
According to the Border Force's own data, some 99 per cent of those high-risk flights were successfully intercepted. However, it admitted that it doesn't know what proportion of private flights “should actually be classified as high risk".
The report said: "There are significant gaps in the Border Force's data, which impacts on the quality of intelligence that can be generated."
At a hearing to discuss the report, Sir Charles Montgomery, director general of the Border Force, explained what information was deleted from the legacy Centaur intelligence system it inherited from HM Revenue and Customs.
He said: "What was deleted was essentially the outcome of the algorithm that ran them against each other that said: "We have John Smith and John Smith - that is a potential match."
"They are then sifted down to see whether that is the same John Smith, and then the National Border Targeting Centre determines whether or not to issue an alert, because it could easily be somebody who has been pulled over once for bringing slightly too many cigarettes through duty free. I think there was one occasion where it was a packet of margarine or whatever."
Are you working on any of these systems? We'd like to hear from you. Get in touch in confidence (click the author's name at the top of this article for a range of options) and tell us all about it. ®
Sponsored: Hyper-scale data management