Questions asked over legality of e-Borders data gathering

"We cannot have another massive IT project which flounders," says Commons Home Affairs Committee
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor on

"We cannot have another massive IT project which flounders," says Commons Home Affairs Committee

Government plans to collect data on all travellers coming to the UK could be illegal under EU law, according to a parliamentary committee.

In a report the Commons Home Affairs Committee said compulsory gathering of data under the £1.2bn e-Borders scheme could be illegal under the terms of the EU treaty.

Under the e-Borders scheme the details of every passenger entering or leaving the UK will be logged in a database run by the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

However the committee report said the scheme's requirement for airlines, ferry and rail companies to forward these details to the UKBA could contravene the UK's obligations as a signatory to the EU treaty. The treaty forbids EU member states from routinely demanding anything other than a valid identity document from an EU citizen who is entering their country.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said in a statement: "The programme is intended to cost the taxpayer £1.2bn and may be illegal. It is shocking that money has already been spent on a programme which could never be implemented."

IT systems for collecting and forwarding passenger data to the Home Office have been rolling out at airports, rail stations and ferry terminals since 2005 and the scheme is due to be fully operational by 2014.

The committee report said no further e-Borders systems should go live at border entry points covering routes to or from other EU countries until the legality of the scheme is established.

"This programme is supposed to cover tens of millions of passengers; intra-EU account for a very significant chunk of travel in and out of the UK," Vaz said in a statement.

"Until this legality is resolved UKBA must just halt any further work to 'go live' on intra-EU routes. We cannot have another massive IT project which flounders or is even abandoned at huge cost to the taxpayer."

A Home Office spokesman insisted it had been given the all-clear on the scheme by the European Commission.

He said: "e-Borders is fully compliant with EU law and this has been confirmed by the European Commission today.

"e-Borders has already screened over 137 million passenger journeys leading to over 4,700 arrests since 2005."

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