United Kingdom Sets up Electronic Borders

August 2008
By Adam Baddeley

The Electronic Borders program is intended to extend the U.K.’s awareness of who wants to enter the country beyond its borders, even from nearby countries such as France.
Agencies both contribute to and access data consolidation.

The United Kingdom is securing its border by throwing an electronic net around the entire nation. The U.K. Electronic Borders program, known as e-Borders, aims at keeping track digitally of every individual who enters or exits the country.

All people seeking to enter or leave the United Kingdom by air, sea or rail have their personal details logged. This information can be accessed and analyzed by the police and the intelligence services as well as by organizations such as the new U.K. Border Agency and UKvisas. The e-Borders system must cope with seagoing vessels ranging from cruise ships to fishing boats and track aircraft ranging from a Cathay Pacific Airbus A380 landing at Heathrow to a private plane flying an individual in for a game of golf. All are in the scope of the program, which ensures that the authorities are able to identify people and log them in and out of the country. The vast majority of travelers will not notice any difference in their passage—unless, of course, the data suggests these are people of interest to the agencies working with e-Borders.

Julie Gillis, project director for e-Borders at the U.K. Border Agency in the Home Office, explains the philosophy behind the program. “The intention is to support the U.K.’s move to an intelligence-led approach in operating our border controls. This is led by the U.K. Border Agency, but it is very much in partnership with the police service and the security and intelligence services. Our aim is to create overseas border control with much tougher checks before a traveler boards a plane, train or boat coming to the United Kingdom.

“It’s also about those departing from U.K. soil,” she continues. The program will allow U.K. agencies to count inbound and outbound travelers and assess the level of risk they may pose. “The information we are gathering is, for us, critical to security and counterterrorism, by alerting the authorities in advance of those who are coming in and out of the country,” Gillis says.

The e-Borders initiative has four major components. One is the collection of data from carriers associated with a passenger taking a journey. Next is the analysis engine, which takes that data and analyzes it using data mining and other techniques to help identify people of potential interest to the agencies. An example would be flagging multiple individuals who are using different credit cards to buy tickets but who are all registered to the same address. A third is getting that information to the right person in the right place—telling them there is someone coming in who needs to be stopped or apprehended. The fourth is the provision of management information that allow the agencies to understand the travel patterns of people going in and out of the country.

E-Borders has several capabilities. The United Kingdom’s current visa process, conducted at embassies and high commissions overseas, already collects biometric data. Under e-Borders, details of all visa applicants will be forwarded at the time of application to the e-Borders Operations Centre (e-BOC) in the United Kingdom. These details then will be checked against multi-agency watch lists, and any alerts will be forwarded to the appropriate agency.

The next stage is the collection of passenger data by the carriers, including passport details and where they are staying in the United Kingdom. This data is sent to an operating center where it is checked against multi-agency watch lists, and any alerts may be issued to the agencies to take appropriate action. The key changes wrought by e-Borders are that those checks now will take place in advance of a passenger’s possible arrival, and the checks will, for the first time, use integrated multi-agency watch lists as opposed to today’s single watch list.

“The other new capability is the replacement of our current clearance systems at the immigration officer’s desk at the border,” Gillis adds. “The new clearance systems will have additional capability in terms of verifying biometrics and providing far more information to the immigration officer than is currently available.”

In November 2007, the Raytheon-led Trusted Borders consortium was selected to deliver e-Borders beginning in April 2008. This team includes Serco, Accenture, Detica, CapGemini, Steria and QinetiQ. The consortium is delivering e-Borders in a phased set of releases that bring functionality in over time. Initially, although data will be collected from carriers, existing clearance systems will remain active at the port. Beginning in April 2009, an advance operating capability will be in place covering people on high-priority routes, and it will build out from there. “We will have the ability in the early stages to receive that data, process it in the e-BOC and determine if any alerts should be issued,” Gillis explains. “Those will initially be sent out manually. Then, it will be partially integrated with the current infrastructure to the extent that makes sense. And finally, it will be fully integrated once the new infrastructure comes in at the port. We are phasing in capability in a manageable way, and as the carrier data volumes ramp up, we will move to a fully integrated system.”

By April 2009, e-Borders will have to cope with volumes of passengers equivalent to 100 million people annually measured in a proportionate two-week period. By December, 60 percent of all passenger movements must be logged and travel document information data obtained. Twelve months later that figure must rise to 95 percent, with full coverage scheduled for March 2014. Under the contract, e-Borders is required to process 200 million passengers annually. This will surge to 300 million in 2012, the year of the London Olympics.

Biometrics are a key part of the new equipment. Today, passengers present their passports as proof of identity and will continue to do so as they enter the country. That passport is swiped, with officers examining the image on that passport and comparing it with the person in front of them. Starting in 2011, they will be able to check that person’s biometric data.

A pilot, the Iris Recognition Immigration System (IRIS), began in 2007 at four airports. Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham are providing an automated biometric barrier system for pre-assessed passengers.

Paul Moordue, who is with the Border Agency’s Design Authority on the e-Borders program, outlines the standardization issues in implementing biometrics. “There is quite a well-established worldwide infrastructure around the production of passports and the standards that they use. The key standard is the International Civil Aviation Organization [ICAO] standard for second-generation electronic passports. We will be putting in place infrastructure that will read those ICAO standard passports, and if a country produces passports to that standard, we will be able to read them. They are encrypted and there is international sharing of encryption keys to enable this to happen.”

The e-Borders program will check visa applicants’ data against multi-agency watch lists at the time of application. That way, concerns about visitors can be addressed before they show up at the border.
Martyn Dawkes, solution design authority director for e-Borders at Raytheon, describes the consortium’s biometric solution: “You have to step back and not think just about the individual pieces of technology themselves. We have to provide a solution that is going to be sufficiently flexible to allow us to use multiple different types of biometric, because there will be different implementations in different passports and that will change over time. That has led us to adopt a middleware approach in biometrics: building a flexible infrastructure to process the biometric data while at the same time changing the front-end piece as biometric technologies mature.”

The 2012 London Olympics imposes certain deadlines and priorities for e-Borders. “We will be introducing the new clearance systems in advance of the Olympics, and in terms of the clearance systems, rollout begins in 2011,” Moordue states. We expect the rollout to be well underway by that point, and clearly we will be starting on the major airports in the Southeast where the Olympics are going to be.”

The precursor to e-Borders is the IBM-led Semaphore pilot program, which has been collecting data on 47 million passenger movements since January 2005. It currently runs at an annualized level of 30 million passengers, and it obtains information from 98 different carriers relating to 170 overseas departure points. This, explains Gillis, has led to 30,000 alerts to the border agencies. “The police have had over 1,800 arrests and other interventions for crimes including murder, kidnapping, rape, assault, firearms charges and fraud, as well as some significant anti-terrorist interventions,” she states.

Semaphore is controlled by the Joint Borders Operations Centre (JBOC), close to Heathrow. Since April, Semaphore has been migrated into e-Borders, and it will be phased out completely during 2009.

Semaphore had two aims: de-risking and informing the e-Borders program; and deriving operational lessons learned, particularly about how multiple agencies work together in one place. Gillis provides a top-level perspective on these insights.

“The key lessons learned were in terms of the technology and how we capture the data, understanding the best format to capture that data, and how we engage with carriers and link up with carrier interfaces,” she relates. “Part of Semaphore’s trials were to help carriers understand the impact e-Borders might have for them. We are not there to impact upon their business operating model. We actually want to do it with the minimum impact, and the trials have demonstrated that. It is simply using the data they are already collecting.”

Several solutions around the globe have implemented government requirements without necessarily addressing industry requirements. In the case of e-Borders, the authorities have been very careful to keep the carrier industry informed and take their needs into account, particularly in system rollout.

Gillis adds, “The other key lesson learned has been amongst the agencies that are working in the JBOC. In the past [they] have worked alone, and [now they] are taking a much more joined-up approach. If an alert comes in, they now are working through the process of who will actually take primacy if someone is of interest to a number of agencies.”

To provide the legal framework to enable data to be shared across multiple departments and agencies, new parliamentary legislation had to be passed, with the recent Borders Act now in place. Currently, use of the data is limited to the core users. In time, other government departments might wish to access data. The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland are discussing how to implement e-Borders and reconcile it with the long-standing Common Travel Area agreement, which allows passport-free travel between the two countries.

The e-BOC is the e-Borders equivalent to the JBOC. Located in northwestern England, it will house several hundred border agency personnel with information technology support from Trusted Borders.

Dawkes notes, “An awful lot of the requirements that we are delivering are aimed at the security of the data stream. We have very stringent requirements around ensuring that people who can access that data are allowed to do so in terms of the role they are performing. It’s a highly resilient, highly available service that we are implementing.”

Web Resources
U.K. e-Borders: www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/managingborders/technology/eborders
Trusted Borders: www.trustedborders.com

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