UK e-Borders faces practical challenges

There’s a good piece in Computing today on the UK’s e-Borders programme – the project to extend and digitise passport checks on travellers heading for the UK. It rightly raises the prospect of challenges to the system over issues like cost, and compliance with EU laws on data-sharing and freedom of movement.

However, there are some foreseeable practical issues as well, and the commercial carriers who will be responsible for much of the ‘front-office’ implementation are already voicing their concerns. The programme director, Julie Gillis, is quoted as saying that:

“There is no system yet in place for maritime and that’s why they’re not going live until 2010,” Of those implementers who have gone live, she says “We’ve had no one report to us yet they have suffered problems with queues.”

Facial biometric checking is already included in the system’s design, and from 2011 fingerprints are to be added – and the functional requirements mean that the systems to carry out these checks have to be put in place by the carriers at the point of embarkation.

That must be one reason why there’s no system in place yet for maritime travellers: the practicalities of checking either facial or fingerprint biometrics for a car-full of passengers – let alone a coach-load – must inevitably mean radical and major changes to the way in which ferry travellers are processed.

With all respect to Ms Gillis, I would say the chance of all maritime carriers going live with such a process in 2010 and reporting no problems with queueing time is zero. If we assume that there is the political will to force through change on the scale (and at the cost) required to meet those objectives, there would still be serious questions to answer about the proportionality of what is being proposed.

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