Brodie Clark, head of the Border Force, discusses how technology is being used to strengthen the UK’s border control
Immigration has been high on the political and media agenda for the last fifteen years. The government is committed to modernising and strengthening UK Border controls and on 1 April 2009 the UK Border Agency became a full executive agency of the Home Office.
With a 25,000 strong workforce and a presence in 135 countries across the world, the creation of the UK Border Agency produced a new global organisation and one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the UK. The UK Border Agency will strengthen the UK’s security through strong border controls protecting the country from illegal immigration, organised crime and terrorism, while welcoming and facilitating legitimate travellers and trade.
A joint approach
Bringing the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, customs detection work at the border and UK visas together has meant that we are better able to deploy our resources, including a wide range of technology, to target those people who attempt to bring people and illegal goods into the UK. Technology such as x-ray scanners, carbon dioxide, drug and radiation detection machines and cameras are used together with the intelligence and skill of our officers on the frontline to protect our border.
This joint approach is delivering real results. Since the UK Border Agency was formed in April 2008 we have seized 1.4 billion cigarettes – representing a potential tax loss of nearly £194 million in tax revenue – and £370 million worth of illegal drugs at the border. What’s more, in 2008 we stopped over 28,000 attempts to cross the channel illegally and searched over one million freight vehicles. We have also now set out our priorities through till 2012 in our first business plan; with new technology to detect more smuggled goods and a National Border Targeting Centre to sharpen security at ports being among the commitments for this year.
In the same way that baggage is scanned at an airport, we use x-ray systems to identify smuggled illegal goods such as weapons, tobacco and drugs concealed within the vehicle.
Technologies such as x-ray are Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) systems, and can penetrate a container to produce an image of the contents. It allows us to carry out examinations of freight without having to unload the goods for manual searches, or intrusive examinations such as dismantling objects or crates.
Throughout 2009, we will be working with our partners, to install fixed x-ray systems at Dover and at our juxtaposed controls in Coquelles, France.
But it’s not just illegal goods that the UK Border Agency is interested in – we also screen freight vehicles for people hiding amongst goods at the French ports of Dunkirk, Coquelles and Calais. When searching for people at our juxtaposed controls in France, we use technology such as carbon dioxide monitors and heart beat detectors – as well as specially trained detector dogs. Screening of freight vehicles for people seeking to enter clandestinely also occurs at UK seaports.
Smugglers are increasingly organised and sophisticated in their illegal activities and it is essential that we have the necessary tools to combat this. These technologies level the playing field and provide the UK Border Agency with an invaluable tool when tackling border crime.
The constant threat of criminality and terrorism has changed the way people and goods travel across the world. The UK government is investing in the latest technology to ensure the UK Border Agency can find dangerous materials earlier.
The Cyclamen Programme is the UK’s radiation screening initiative designed to enhance counter-terrorism measures at the border. These radiation screening systems have been installed at ports and airports across the UK to detect illicit nuclear and radiological material. The radiation detection technology deployed includes fixed and mobile capabilities.
The equipment is passive, in that it does not emit radiation, but merely detects the presence of radiation as it passes through the portals.
In addition to screening freight, we also screen passengers to detect illicit goods. Increasing passenger volumes make this a particularly tough challenge. We have installed new millimetre wave cameras at ports and airports throughout the UK which help us to identify those passengers who may be hiding something from us.
This new imaging technology measures waves naturally emitted by the human body, exposing “cold” objects such as metal, plastic, or ceramics concealed under clothing. It doesn’t generate emissions itself, but creates an image from reflected body energy.
Drug tracing machines are also used to detect traces of illegal substances on a person and their clothes. The sophistication of the machines means that they can identify minute traces of drugs including cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and cannabis, even if the person had washed their hands. The resulting reading indicates how many drugs are present in the sample and at what levels.
The e-Borders programme will collect and analyse passenger and crew information provided in advance of travel by carriers. It allows us to count people in and out of the country and importantly, the new advances in technology will allow border control agencies to work closer together in minimising border security risks and reducing crime.
Since 2005 e-Borders has screened 94 million passengers travelling to and from the UK, leading to over 3400 arrests, including 30 arrests for murder and 95 for rape and sexual offences. There have also been significant amounts of drugs and tobacco confiscated.
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) recognises that it needs to balance maintaining border security with the facilitation of legitimate trade and travel. Businesses and government should do what they can to make sure that the disruption caused by intercepting those who represent a higher risk is minimised. UKBA is already investing in new technology which will expedite the journey of certain categories of trusted traveller
Advances in technology have allowed us to install self-service ‘trusted traveller’ schemes such as IRIS and Automated Clearance Systems (ACS) which check the identity and eligibility of uniquely identified travellers before allowing them to enter the country.
IRIS, the Iris Recognition Immigration System, has been available at selected ports since January 2006. Over 300,000 people are currently enrolled on the system and over two million crossings have taken place since its introduction. The Scheme is open to British Citizens, EEA nationals, those with permanent residence and frequent travellers. It requires pre-enrolment and once accepted onto the scheme passengers may use any of the IRIS gates at UK airports. The gates read IRIS patterns and verify that the individual is eligible to enter before allowing entry.
UKBA began trialling Automated Clearance Systems (ACS) at Manchester and Stansted Airports in August and December 2008. Over 400,000 passengers have already used this convenient, secure, self service border crossing. Unlike IRIS, ACS does not require pre-enrolment and is available to adult EEA and UK nationals with e-passports. The gates use facial recognition technology to compare the users face to the image and data held in their e-passport.
Feedback during the ACS trials has been encouraging – passengers have responded positively to the ease of use of the system. By August 2009 we plan to make ACS available at ten UK airport terminals, providing passengers with a secure, self-service alternative to the conventional manual control.
The UK Border Agency is continuously working to strengthen the border, while facilitating trade and travel that benefits the UK. To do this we have to constantly refine the targeting of high-risk imports and people so that we can minimise delays for legitimate business and travellers.
The creation of a single, integrated, force at the border means that we can, in a difficult and challenging environment ensure controlled, fair migration that protects the public and contributes to economic growth.