Protecting the borders

Posted: 28 September 2007 | Richard Piper | No comments yet

Richard Piper speaks to Mr. Brodie Clark, Strategic Director for Border Control at the UK Home Office, about what is being done to strengthen UK borders and how they are utilising the latest advances in technology.

Richard Piper speaks to Mr. Brodie Clark, Strategic Director for Border Control at the UK Home Office, about what is being done to strengthen UK borders and how they are utilising the latest advances in technology.

Q: What impact will the UK borders bill have on border control?

There’s an agenda around border control at the moment in terms of tightening and securing the UK border. The UK borders bill will do much to strengthen the powers of immigration staff working at the control and we think that this is a very important part of developing a stronger border force. There will also be an additional power to detain and hold people for periods of time which, previously we haven’t been able to do.

Q: What sort of technology do you use to enhance border security?

There is the regular watch listing technology which we have now superseded with some scanning capabilities, so we are able to open biometric chips at the primary control. Although this is only facial recognition we will be ready for fingerprint technology as it comes into play. We also have iris scanning, with nine gates in operation across the business. Just over 100,000 people have now enrolled in IRIS and we are increasing this number by approximately 1500 people per week. We have had a quarter of a million passengers pass through IRIS gates since it has been up and running and this has been a proof of concept for part of the bigger programme for e-borders.

e-Borders will comprise certainly that element of automated clearance, but I guess for us the big benefit of e-Borders is the Semaphore project and the joint border operations centre at London Heathrow, where we are now able to get data on people over 75 routes into and out of the UK, prior to their arrival or departure. That is again proof of concept, that’s part of what will be signed off as an e-borders contract and we are hoping that this will be signed off and awarded in middle to late October of this year. We’re almost at the point of awarding that contract and then there is a rollout process from there on afterwards, which will build up what we currently have in place at Semaphore and will build on other security elements of the border control operation. Semaphore has been a huge success in the 15 months that it’s been running and recently we just achieved our 1000th arrest and conviction by the police, in line with the criminal offending of people coming into the UK. It has had a major impact, even in this pilot stage.

Q: Can you explain IRIS?

IRIS is a process for expediting the passage of pre-enrolled people through the immigration control. When you enrol, you are checked against a number of watch lists and subject to those being clear you are enrolled using your unique iris identity. Thereafter you are able to pass though a gate without having to present your documentation to the arrivals control. You are able to do that, at the moment, for as long as you remain clear of those watch lists. If you come to our attention, or any of the watch lists attention, you are then immediately disconnected from coming through the iris process. It is live checking, almost instant, so if you appear on a watch list you are then debarred from using IRIS immediately and will then have to report to staff.

Q: Will travellers be charged for using this facility?

It’s a free commodity at this stage, though one is not sure that it will always be free. It is clearly a benefit to travellers and it allows my staff at the arrivals control to therefore focus on those passengers who are of greater interest and of whom some will present a risk and threat to the UK. It will allow more focused attention in that way and will help to take some of the queuing traffic through this much faster process.

Q: Can you explain the work of Airline Liaison Officers?

We have over 50 Airline Liaison Officers (ALOs) now and I think that’s probably the highest number of any country in the world. They are located around the world at strategic ports of embarkation to the UK and their job is to work with the carriers to ensure that they are qualified and able to disqualify people from coming to the UK who have no entitlement to come, either through fraudulent documentation or through some other issue in respect of these individuals. They work closely with carriers to that end and they attend at airports on a daily basis. They also run training sessions for carriers overseas to help them to understand what a forged document looks like and to help with some expertise there.

Over the last 5 years, together with ALOs and carriers, 180,000 people have either been taken off of aircraft or have been prevented from boarding aircraft headed for the UK and that is a direct consequence of the relationship between ALOs and carriers. It has been a hugely successful investment and we are increasingly working with other countries in developing ALO networks in particular places. For example, in BKK there are 10 countries represented with ALOs. They work together, they cover each other, they share intelligence on a local level and they are becoming quite a strong force in working with the carriers to disallow people coming to the UK who are not entitled to come.

Q: What exactly are juxtaposed controls?

A juxtaposed control, in immigration terms, differs from a conventional immigration control that takes place on arrival. A Juxtaposed control is a UK operated immigration control that takes place just before the traveller embarks on the final stage of their journey to the UK.

UK immigration controls, known as juxtaposed controls, already operate in France at Calais, Boulogne and Dunkerque ferry ports, the Eurotunnel terminal at Coquelles and the Eurostar stations of Brussels, Paris, Lille and Calais Frethun.

Q: The Border and Visa strategy contained other policies – can you explain what they are?

Certainly they have built on the work of e-borders and they have built on the work of exporting the borders, part of which is the ALO network. They also introduced a full new re-examination of the visa waiver qualification. This is an examination of international countries where a visa should be applicable and where a visa waiver may take place. It did this by developing a set of criteria for what might qualify a country for a visa waiver programme, so that’s a piece of work that’s ongoing at the moment. The programme may require some countries who have hitherto not had visas to introduce visas and those which have had a visa regime in the past, to have that waived because they qualify against the criteria that we are putting into place. So that’s one very big and very significant development in that strategy. The other is a commitment to capture biometrics on non-EEA nationals coming to the UK who are not visa holders. We have given a commitment that, by the end of 2010, if you’re a non-visa national and you chose to come to the UK then we will capture that biometric at your point of entry. Visa-nationals will have this biometric captured at the point of obtaining the visa. That’s a significant development and that is in our effort to be able to properly say that we will have a unique and secure identity for those people as they come to the UK. The only way I think you can gather that unique and secure identity, is through a biometric identifier, not a biographic piece of information.

Q: What is this about creating an offshore border?

The offshore border is lined with the ‘exporting the border’ concept. At the moment our offshore border comprises our visa regime and the capture of biometrics there and our ALO network and the work we do all over the world on that front. It also includes our work with juxtaposed controls in France and Belgium, where the immigration control there is staffed by UK immigration and people are checked before they come to the UK. So that’s part of our offshore border, the other part is the development of e-Borders which starts to increasingly give us the capability of getting advanced passenger information. At the moment we are not getting that information before the passenger leaves for the UK, but we are getting it before they arrive here so we know what to expect. We know who wants to meet this person, whether they can move through swiftly and cleanly without too much challenge, or whether they need to be met by customs, the police, or ourselves. We will reach a position where we will have this information in advance of their departure and that then becomes a decision making process of who you allow onto the plane, on the basis of the information we have back in the UK.

Q: How do biometric visas fit into this?

They are a very important part of it in the sense that the identity checking and the credentials behind the application are checked out overseas. We are now in a position where checking can also be carried out against UK watch lists. All of the checks are done overseas, the biometric identifier is captured overseas and only at that point is permission granted for the individual to come to the UK.

Q: How does taking biometrics abroad help tackle illegal immigration in the UK?

Taking a biometric overseas allows us to compare that biometric against people who have been previous immigration offenders or who have abused visa entitlements in the past. It becomes another part of the process of getting a security of the identity of the individual and the record that individual has got. That is the check against illegal entry into the UK because only the biometric will give us that assuredness of the identity.

Q: Are there any other areas that you are working on currently?

The other area we are working on at the moment is visibility. We have now got Stansted and Gatwick where the staff are wearing uniforms and by the end of September all of my frontline staff will be following suit. That’ll be the first time that the UK will have had frontline immigration staff in uniform and that is about visibility. It is also about giving my staff the confidence to exercise authority if necessary and will help the travelling public to recognise that we mean business in terms of the job that we are doing.

Alongside the uniforms we are introducing new signage at airports. If you go into any Heathrow terminal, likewise Gatwick or Stansted, you will now be hit with a much clearer, simplified signage expressing the words ‘UK Border’. So you’re coming through the border and that gives the message that this is something of significance. You’re not drifting into the UK, you’re coming in and you get in if you’ve got permission and people with a degree of authority, that mean business, will allow you and will make those judgements about you.

The visibility is increasing at the front line and that is quite deliberate. Alongside that we are doing quite a lot of customer and passenger work and we are looking into plasma screens, with information about the airport, immigration and immigration offending. Also it will be clearer to customers the length of time that they will have to wait, so it’s a bit like a queue at the amusement park where you are told that you have ten minutes to wait. We want people to understand the amount of time that they are having to wait and we are sending them a clear message that sometimes that wait is caused by the checks that we are doing at the front line, which are slightly tougher now.

About Brodie Clark

Brodie Clark joined the Immigration and Nationality Directorate in 2003 from a distinguished career in the prison service. The highlight of his career was managing the High Security Estate, consisting of nine top security prisons, together with a number of specialist units for the effective and humane detention of the highly dangerous. A one-time sportsman of reasonable note, including representative Rugby, he has now relegated himself to spectating or the more gentle sports.

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