Hot on the heels of the NHS Connecting for Health IT shambles, another government catastrophe in the offing.
As the year closes, the e-borders scheme I wrote about on 8th January 2009 looks to be in tatters.
The so-called e-Borders scheme was supposed to make it compulsory to collect information from everyone in advance of their travel so they could be checked against watchlists and enable the authorities to count everyone in and out of the country.
But passengers will not be forced to hand over the information amid concerns it could have breached EU rules over free movement.
In a report published today, MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee warned the scheme could be illegal because EU law allows free movement of its citizens between member states so long as they hold a passport.
The letter, from Jonathan Faull, director general of the European Commission’s Justice, Freedom and Security department, confirmed that the programme did not breach the rules, but that was because of "commitments and assurances" made by the UK authorities.
It makes clear that EU citizens who refused to pass on their personal information cannot be stopped from entering or leaving the UK.
Passengers must be told in advance that handing over the information is "is neither compulsory nor … a condition of purchase and sale of the ticket", it states.
"Passengers who are EU citizens or their family members will not be refused entry/exit or incur sanctions in any way on the basis that their passenger data is unavailable to the UK authorities for whatever reason," the letter states.
"Carriers will be instructed by the UK authorities not to deny boarding to travellers regardless of their nationality, who do not communicate API (Advanced Passenger Information) to the operator, and that the provision of API data to operators is neither compulsory nor is made a condition of purchase and sale of the ticket."
Advanced passenger information includes the most basic data required for e-Border checks, including name, gender, date of birth, nationality and country of residence.
It raises the possibility of mass refusals from passengers who simply do not wish to pass on their personal information. The loophole could also be exploited by criminals and terrorists.
Damian Green, the Conservative immigration spokesman, said: "It seems extraordinary that, this long into a seven-year contract that costs more than £1 billion, the Government hasn’t established whether it can impose this system on travellers, and it looks from this letter as it cannot.
"This is a huge embarrassment for ministers.
"They have set up this elaborate, hugely expensive system and the Commission is telling them it only works if people volunteer."
So, it’s a £1.2bn waste of time and money. But the IT contractors made few quid, so it’s not all bad news ;-)
One thought on “Their incompetence is our best defence…”
So pleased to hear about the option of refusing to supply the information requested by e-borders. I had planned to lie as much as possible – now it looks as though I can just tell them to **** off. Where does this leave the current Spanish demand that travellers to/from Spain must provide personal information upfront?