Gov't faces backlash over e-Borders travel database

A database that will enable the government to track everybody entering and leaving the UK has been criticised by political parties and privacy campaigners
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have attacked the UK government over the retention of travel data.

The government plans to retain all travel data  for everyone entering and leaving the country in a centralised database for 10 years, and is in the process of updating a centre near Manchester to process the data, the Home Office said on Monday.

"Our hi-tech electronic borders system will allow us to count all passengers in and out of the UK and targets those who aren't willing to play by our rules," said UK border and immigration minister Phil Woolas in a statement. "Already e-Borders has screened over 75 million passengers against immigration, customs and police watch-lists, leading to over 2,700 arrests for crimes such as murder, rape and assault."

Retained information will include the passenger name, date, method of payment and place of ticket issue. The e-Borders Operations Centre at Wythenshawe near Manchester, which was previously called the Joint Border Operations Centre, has been collecting passenger information since October 2008. The centre will, by July, be able to fully track passenger movements. By the end of 2009, details of all passengers and crew entering and leaving the UK will be recorded.

The centre will be run by the UK Identity and Passport Service, with input from HMRC, MI5, MI6, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and the police.

The Home Office insisted that the information collated would be used to track serious criminals, and not used for actions such as catching benefit cheats. However, the Conservative party said the civil liberties of ordinary UK citizens were being gradually eroded by the increasing collection and collation of data by the government.

"Everywhere that you look right now, the government seems to be building databases to track more and more of our lives," said shadow home secretary Chris Grayling in a statement. "The justification is always about security or personal protection — but in a nation where we now have anti-terror laws being used by local councils to watch out for parents breaking the rules on school admissions, the truth is that we have a government that just can't be trusted over these highly sensitive issues. We must not allow ourselves to become a Big Brother society."

The Liberal Democrats said the e-Borders scheme was "another example of an intrusive database without any public debate about safeguards on its use".

"We are sleepwalking into a surveillance state and should remember that George Orwell's 1984 was a warning, not a blueprint," said Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary, Chris Huhne, in a statement.

Privacy campaigner Phil Booth, director of the No2ID group, said his organisation was "extremely concerned" by both the e-Borders database and other centralised government databases.

"They're building a dossier on anyone who decides to travel," Booth told ZDNet UK. "We have always said the government is passing a heck of a lot of information ahead of you in the form of passenger-name records. They have been collecting and collating this information — now they will retain it."

Booth said the National Identity Register (the database behind the National Identity Scheme), the ContactPoint child database, the NHS central care records system, the e-Borders database, automatic number-plate recognition systems and the DNA database all caused his organisation concern.

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