Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum by Ms Joan Ryan MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the Home Office

  During my appearance before sub-Committee F (Home Affairs) on 7 March I undertook to write with some additional information on the e-Borders Programme, Project Semaphore and our successful use of passenger data.

7 MARCH 2007

  e-Borders is a medium to long-term initiative to re-shape the UK's border co-ordinated by the Home Office Immigration and Nationality Directorate (Border and Immigration Agency from April 2007) in partnership with other border agencies (HM Revenue and Customs, the Intelligence Agencies, the Police Service and UKvisas). Other departments and agencies such as the Department of Work and Pensions and the Identity and Passport Service are involved as major potential beneficiaries of the e-Borders data. The programme contract award is scheduled for 2007, with significant operating capability planned for July 2008, and full e-Borders capability in 2014.

  Project Semaphore was launched in November 2004 as an operational prototype to trial e-Borders concepts and technology in order to inform and de-risk e-Borders. The pilot has been capturing passenger information on selected routes, and assessing it against watch lists. Based on the assessment, where a passenger is of interest, an alert is usually issued to the relevant partner agency for appropriate action to be taken. The Joint Border Operations Centre (JBOC) is the operational hub of Project Semaphore and manages the data captured and generates alerts to the border security agencies. Significant operational successes have been achieved, including the arrests on arrival or departure of those wanted for serious crimes, such as murder, rape, drug and tobacco smuggling as well as passport offences. To date nearly 900 arrests have been made.

  The two key types of data received by project Semaphore are Advanced Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Name Records (PNR). API is usually used to refer to the information contained in a passenger's travel document, including the name, date of birth, gender, nationality and travel document type and number. PNR data is a term specific to the air carrier industry and relates to information held in a carrier's reservation system and consists of a number of elements which may include date and place of ticket issue, method of payment and travel itinerary.

  We are currently collecting passenger data from 40 carriers, amounting to 20.9m annualised passenger movements. Project Semaphore currently receives API data on flights from 72 non-UK arrival and departure points. Recent API checks have led to a number of police national computer matches, including the identification of three men wanted for murder during riots in Birmingham last year. They were arrested at Heathrow and have since been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. These checks have also led to immigration service matches, such as the identification of holders of fraudulently obtained passports who have consequently been refused leave to enter the UK. We are negotiating with carriers to expand our data access in order to achieve the IND Review target of 30 million movements by April 2008.

  PNR data is used in Semaphore to identify "associated passengers" on bookings. It is also used to identify passengers who are in-transit through the UK rather than arriving (thus reducing unnecessary alerts). In January 2007 23 successes were recorded by Project Semaphore as a result of automated profiling based on passenger data. For example, HMRC were alerted by PNR data to a passenger whose booking was made the day before travel and paid for in cash, who had an overnight stay in the UK before onward travel to Houston. The check of onboard details by a JBOC analyst showed a change in the routing to depart from Gatwick to Houston, which matched a previous successful HMRC profile. The alert was passed directly to HMRC at Heathrow, where he was intercepted on arrival and four kilos of cocaine was found in his baggage. He was arrested and charged.

  I would also like to advise you that a future EU common framework on PNR data is being considered by the European Commission. An informal consultation has been carried out and a draft framework decision may be brought forward later this year. There is no set date. We look forward to this proposal, and hope that it will be as flexible as possible to maximise the benefits of PNR data.

30 March 2007

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