What is it?
The Home Office website makes the following benign-sounding claim: “Every year, more than 200 million passengers cross the UK border. To help secure the border, we use an electronic system called e-Borders to carry out checks on travellers before they begin their journey. This allows our officers to identify those who should not be in the UK or who intend harm.”
Libby Purves in The Times describes it, rather more colourfully, as ‘the new frontier of oppression’. It’s the requirement to submit a detailed record of your travel plans every time you leave the UK; a record that can be kept for up to ten years and has the potential to be used against you by the authorities.
What’s the history?
It seems to have started as a disproportionate response to Tony Blair’s inability to state how many failed asylum seekers are in the UK. The Government over-reacted, and now seems hell-bent on knowing just about everything about everyone who passes through the country.
What are the aims?
Supposedly, this is all for our safety and protection. In practice, it’s a huge database of everyone entering or leaving the country, unmonitored by any independent body and unaccountable to the public. There are already suggestions that it will be used to enforce petty offences such as taking children abroad during the school term, and it smacks of a creeping authoritarian approach to government.
What’s the current situation?
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition sacked Raytheon, the lead contractor of the Trusted Borders(!) coalition hired to administrate the scheme, in July 2010; they claimed that work was well behind schedule. In principle, however, our current government appears as committed to e-Borders as our previous one.
What problems does it cause me?
Within the EU, e-Borders has been ruled illegal because of the restrictions it places upon freedom of movement. There are significant technical and technological hurdles to its imposition, which probably played a part in the delays in its implementation.
Nonetheless, a skeleton version of e-Borders is already in operation. If you ever travel abroad and you value your privacy, you’ll want to make sure that e-Borders is stopped in its tracks.
What does the future hold?
In all likelihood, a great deal of confusion, bureaucratic incompetence and wasted public money. If e-Borders ever does become fully operational, however, it could become an extremely draconian, soulless and disturbing way of policing borders. The idea of iris scans and biometric testing sounds like something out of a science-fiction film. Just as bad, the prospect of reporting one’s whereabouts to the government at all times is infantilising and undignified.