Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


110.  We have looked at the equipment used to detect illegal entrants at and near ports and the computer systems supporting immigration work in the UK and in other countries. We have taken into account systems we have seen operating at ports and borders in Hungary, Germany, Spain and Washington DC. The technology can be divided into three areas:

  • detection equipment

  • identity verification equipment

  • information technology systems.

111.  The detection equipment we have seen in the UK and elsewhere includes:

  • carbon dioxide detectors ("CO2 wands") used by the Immigration Service (and P&O Stena at Calais) to indicate whether human beings are concealed in vehicles

  • x-ray scanners used to detect illegal goods in lorries - a large fixed scanner at the French end of the Channel Tunnel and smaller mobile scanners used by Customs - while they are not used specifically to find human beings, they can do so

  • ultrasound scanners used in Spain to detect heartbeats in vehicles (AVIAN)

  • automatic number plate readers (ANPRs) and closed circuit television (CCTV)

  • Ionscan drug trace detection equipment used by Customs for checking vehicles

  • heat sensitive devices for land borders - used between Germany and the Czech Republic

  • hand-held infra-red cameras used by the Spanish authorities to detect passengers in fast boats crossing the Straits of Gibraltar.

112.  Examples of equipment used to check personal identity are:

  • automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) using LIVESCAN equipment (not paper and ink) - in the US linked directly to databases giving speedy identification

  • quick scanning of passports for check against databases - US system in use in Hungary

  • calling up (at ports) the original passport application information - technically possibly under the Passport Application Support System (PASS) but only usable in relation to UK passports issued after 1998 and not currently used at ports

  • equipment for secure transmission of photographs - as used by Customs at Harwich but not directly accessible by the Immigration Service

  • hand geometry recognition machines used with smart cards in the United States to allow speedy entry of regular travellers (INSPASS)

  • ultraviolet and other modern technology used at the National Forgery Section of the Immigration Service for detecting passport forgeries.[88]

113.  We were told that one of the constraints on greater use of technology is resources. Sophisticated equipment is expensive and deploying it to ports where it may be used relatively little may not be cost effective - a similar argument was used for the absence of sniffer dogs at Harwich, which cost about £4,000 a year to train and operate.[89] Livescan fingerprinting equipment costs £30,000 to £50,000 for each unit and even at major ports the fingerprints of only 20 or so people are taken each day, so paper and ink will continue to be used for fingerprinting, with the results sent to the central database by scanner.[90]

114.  Though it might be desirable to examine all travellers and cargo entering the United Kingdom, it is not practical to do so with the equipment currently in use without deploying many more staff and taking up travellers' time. Moreover, given that the vast majority of traffic is of little or no interest to law enforcement agencies, it is sensible for those agencies to devise profiling techniques, supported by intelligence and up to date travel pattern analysis, so that the most effective checks can be made with the current technology available. Appropriate funding arrangements for research, development and procurement of new technology must be made available to ensure effective controls are adequate to cope with the anticipated growth of traffic.

115.  There are some areas of research which could be pursued:

  • biometric devices which identify individuals accurately - CCTV used in connection with facial recognition techniques to locate a face in a live video stream to be compared with those stored in a database - iris/retina recognition and facial mapping methods being developed in other police work

  • smart cards providing indisputable ownership identity

  • smart labels/barcodes/tagging systems to monitor movement of goods (including passenger's baggage) and provide identification of ownership

  • development of x-ray image recognition algorithms.

116.  The Immigration Service cannot do its job without modern equipment, both for detection and for identification. There should be a more active approach both to researching potentially useful technologies and applying the experience of other countries. Detection equipment, such as CO2 wands, x-ray and ultra-sound scanners and infrared cameras, will make it harder for clandestine immigrants to get through border controls. The use of more equipment should enable a higher proportion of lorries to be checked - which should act as a deterrent. But such detection equipment needs to be complemented by identification equipment, such as fingerprint identification, rapid scanning of passports and secure transmission of photographs. Otherwise clandestine immigrants who are refused entry will simply try again the following day.

117.  We recommend that the Government should explore the possibility of a joint budget for advanced technology projects for border agencies in the same way as a joint reserve fund has been arranged for the three departments involved in the criminal justice system. The border agencies should identify technology they would like to use, produce specifications for future needs and encourage companies to develop the necessary equipment for use in the UK and elsewhere.


118.  Another aspect is the effective use of information and communications technology in the running of the business. During visits to Immigration Service offices, we were surprised to see stacks of manual files and far fewer computer screens than in most modern offices. Computers are used for:

  • Port Administration System casework system - introduced in 1991 - used at 15 main ports only - "now essentially a legacy system and very expensive to amend, but the Immigration Service (IS) is very much reliant upon it"[92]

  • corporate desktop system used by the Home Office (POISE) was extended to 80% of Immigration Service staff by the end of 2000 to provide end-to- end processing of asylum applications.

119.  The Immigration Service does not have at ports a single computer system on which details of names, dates of birth, nationality and passports on passenger lists on incoming flights or sailings can be checked automatically against databases of criminal records, driving licence applications, credit card holding, house occupation, in real time. This is available to the United States Immigration Service. A range of other information is available to those enforcing border controls, but they are not all on one system and access to them is dependent upon statutory gateways, physical separation of offices, availability of other staff and the effectiveness of local co-operation.

120.  We have seen how the introduction of information technology in other parts of the Home Office, such as the Passport Office, has gone badly. Equally we have seen other parts of government, such as the Crown Prosecution Service and the Public Trust Office, where e-mail is not yet in general use. If the relative under-use of IT in the Immigration Service was the result of careful risk assessment, cost benefit analysis and operational need, there might be something to be said for it. Sadly this does not seem to be the case: there just have not been the resources to make better use of IT.[93] The Home Office accepts this:

    "it is absolutely fair to say that [Immigration and Nationality Department} has been slow in taking advantage of technology and that it is those working for the Immigration Service in ports ...who have been less well-served by the availability of IT we are now moving forward, clearly from a very low base, I entirely admit... but it has not been adequate and it is now going to get better".[94]

121.  From what we have seen in this inquiry, Customs and Excise is much more advanced than the Immigration Service both in using information technology to support its work and in deploying new equipment at ports. Customs went through a radical change in January 1993, when free movement of goods within the EU Single Market was introduced. The Immigration Service has not had such a life-changing experience. This may reflect a lack of joined-up working between the Home Office and the other border agencies. It may also be because Customs' work other than at ports has given greater opportunities for testing and deploying new equipment. Effective use of modern IT requires compatible equipment, properly trained operators and broad band communication systems to facilitate fast and high capacity image and text transmission.

122.  The division of financial responsibility between different budgets in the Home Office, Customs and Excise and (51) different police forces must make it difficult to invest in new equipment which could be used by all border agencies. New scanners are being acquired by Customs, which is best placed to justify such new equipment in terms of financial benefits on tobacco smuggling. Such equipment may also play a role in the prevention of terrorism but is not designed to be used to detect clandestine entrants. We suggested in paragraph 117 above that there should be a joint fund for advanced technology for the border agencies. We would also expect that individual procurement projects within individual agencies should take into account the benefits to the other agencies.

123.  The lack of sufficient information and communications technology in the Immigration Service should be addressed urgently. The under-investment in such technology has undoubtedly caused difficulties in maintaining effective border controls.

124.  We recommend that, as progressively a higher proportion of UK passports are in the new (post 1998) format, the Passport Application Support System should be made available at ports to allow the Immigration Service to call up the original photograph submitted with a UK passport as a protection against passport forgery.

88  Q 50. Back

89  Q 42-43. Back

90  Appendix 1 annex 31. Back

91  Q 44 (Mr Boys Smith, Home Office). Back

92  Appendix 1, para 4.1. Back

93  Q 45. Back

94  Q 44 (Mr Boys Smith, Home Office).  Back

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