Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex 33



  1.  All Immigration Officers and entry Clearance Officers undergo forgery awareness training, and a programme to train staff of the Integrated Casework Directorate has now also commenced.

  2.  Current technical assistance to counter forgery falls into two basic categories:

    —  Forgery detection equipment—magnifiers; ultra-violet and infra-red light sources, and

    —  Information about current and past document abuse and reference images of genuine documents.

  3.  The National Forgery Section (NFS) at Status Park is the UK's centre for intelligence and expertise in countering the abuse of travel documentation. It has invested in sophisticated forensic examination equipment which uses microscopy, ultra-violet and infra-red light to test inbuilt security safeguards and to detect fraudulent alteration and counterfeiting in the paper, printing and laminates of travel documents. All port controls have access to less sophisticated but nevertheless effective magnifiers and light sources. NFS maintains a constant watch for new document examination equipment and techniques and works with suppliers to improve the effectiveness of their products.

  4.  There are plans to upgrade, through replacement, document examination devices at all our main ports within the next three years. Such devices use a combination of magnification, UV and IR light, together with other examination techniques, to reveal tampering and counterfeiting and can be linked to computers to enable images of questioned documents to be stored and forwarded to other parts of the control. The use of a similar PC-based device (Borderguard from IAI of the USA) which can also scan machine-readable documents, automatically search for covert safeguards and compare questioned documents to stored specimen images is also being examined.

  5.  The brief inspection of documents of EU citizens on arrival (see section 15.4) has led to such documents being targeted by forgers. Forged and counterfeit EU documents figure highly in those detected at ports of entry and continue also to be referred to NFS by ICD and other government departments. Officers need to be able to examine documents quickly and to compare them to known good specimens and it is in this area where information technology is likely to be very effective in supplementing, and later largely replacing, paper-based intelligence material.

  6.  With computer networks able to link by e-mail all parts of the control (including the overseas visa operation and specialist "back office" departments) on-line libraries of specimens and forgery examples, with related intelligence, would be available for port controls. Front line staff would therefore be able to make reference to such information immediately upon presentation of the document. This technique would parallel the Warnings Index, which vastly improves operational effectiveness by bringing a continuously updated list of information direct to the front line, together with facility to verify data from ICAO-format machine readable travel documents and visas.

  7.  With such technology, front line staff would be able to pass quickly to NFS any intelligence (images and text) for evaluation and dissemination. NFS now uses an advanced intelligence database (which will soon contain both text and images) which links NFS' own document examinations with intelligence from ports, enforcement offices and other agencies (such as the Police, Benefits Agency and HM Customs) to produce information about current trends. It is possible to harvest data from the Port Administration System about forgeries encountered at larger ports of entry to incorporate into the NFS intelligence system.

  8.  NFS produces reports and expert witness statements about documents referred to it by the Immigration Service and other law enforcement agencies and government departments. New varieties of counterfeit or forged travel documents are reported to front line staff in printed "Forgery Finders" and "Forgery Bulletins" which contain colour close-up images of documents together with a text description of the forger's techniques and how to spot them. Electronic distribution proposed is likely to bring the following benefits:

    —  The time between forensic examination by NFS of a particular forgery and the dissemination of its features to front line Home Office and FCO staff, as well as allied agencies, will be cut significantly.

    —  The intelligence will be held securely but can be accessed at any location by any authorised officer.

    —  The information required to spot document abuse, including images and descriptions of commonly abused documents, will be readily available to front line officers.

    —  Readily accessible forgery information will mean that checks can be carried out without unduly delaying bona fide passengers.

  9.  The Document Abuse Information System (DAIS) is a technical product that is currently being developed to bring NFS intelligence on travel document abuse direct to ports of entry. At present it runs on standalone Macintosh computers deployed at eight major ports but is being reconfigured to work on Home Office corporate systems. DAIS displays not only images and information about genuine documents and known types of forgery, but also demonstrates the forger's techniques and explains technical terms.

  10.  The UK Passport Agency (UKPA) has recently provided NFS with two terminals which give access to the Agency's passport database. It is now possible to give frontline staff near 24-hour access to information which can resolve doubts about UK passports. The significant factor in the effectiveness of the UKPA system in strengthening the port control is that photo images of the rightful holders of the latest pattern UK passports are now routinely available.



11.  The Immigration Service is not currently using or trialling any electronic biometric scanning devices because of the small number of national passports or identify cards containing such information. However, we understand that the latest Malaysian passport contains a chip built into the cover and the new US Green Card and the new Italian national identity card will contain memory devices which can store personal data in an allegedly tamperproof format.

  12.  The International Civil Airline Organisation (ICAO), which oversees technical standards for travel documents, sponsors research into the encoding of information into two-dimensional barcodes, computer chips and such and is also looking at how to attach a facial image, fingerprint, iris scan, hand geometry etc to travel documents. Several document security companies have demonstrated methods of encoding data into passports and visas such that the data can be read electronically. However, sufficient standardisation and acceptance are yet to be achieved.

  13.  The US Immigration and Naturalization Service has a set of systems under the generic name of Port PASS (INSPASS, SENTRI, RVIS and OARS) which has run successfully for several years. These all involve remotely-supervised border crossing mechanisms. With INSPASS qualifying regular low-risk travellers use smartcards in conjunction with a hand geometry reader to exit the airport arrivals hall.

  14.  An alternative to biometric identification is verification of a passenger's identity by reference to electronic data passed to the port control from the Visa Officer. The Australians have a system which dispenses with paper visas altogether: the airline and Immigration Officer are alerted to "visa issued status" by the appearance of the passenger's details on the airline reservation system or watchlist. Canada runs a similar system.

  15.  The Immigration Service can verify machine-readable details via its Warnings Index terminals. It may be possible in future to target high-risk visa nationals by sending personal details and a scanned photograph from FCO posts via the FIRECREST and POISE systems to a central UK point from which officers on the control can view the details. Any discrepancy between the physical person, their document and the electronic description would initiate further examination.


  16.  NFS has responsibility for evaluating technical solutions to other immigration control problems. A major concern is the arrival of clandestine illegal entrants concealed in vehicles, railway wagons and freight containers. It is also a problem which concerns the USA and Canada.

  17.  There are already effective methods of detecting human presence in enclosed spaces. Currently, IS staff at the port of Dover use sniffer dogs and hand-held CO2 detectors to inspect freight traffic for concealed illegal entrants. The volume of traffic at Dover is such that not all vehicles can be inspected. Even the USA, which leads the field in x-ray and gamma ray inspection of vehicles, is unable to scan every vehicle passing through crossing points equipped with scanners. The process takes too long and causes disruption and delay to cross-border traffic. The x-ray and gamma-ray installations capable of scanning whole lorry trailers and railway wagons are expensive, typically $3-5 million upwards. To date, no such devices have been installed in the UK. Health and Safety considerations are also a factor in the use of such equipment.

  18.  NFS is actively looking at lower-cost alternatives which are able to scan whole vehicles but which do not require a large fixed installation. These technologies are based on radar detection of movement and the seismic detection of heartbeats, the latter having worked very well in HM Prison Service trials. These technologies are known to work well in calm, protected environments where the time taken to scan is not a factor. Their benefit in less favourable conditions (eg a busy port) is yet to be proven. NFS has had contact with several suppliers and notes HM Customs and Excise proposals for scanners for anti-smuggling work. We would wish to have the opportunity to work with HM Customs and Excise in the context of joint border control initiatives to evaluate the effectiveness of these technologies on detection of human presence.

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Prepared 31 January 2001