UK to heighten and automate border security by 2014

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Around 200 million passengers passed through UK airports in 2003 - and if growth continues as predicted, by 2030 as many as 600 million passengers will pass through UK airports each year.

As a result of this massive increase in travel, coupled with the fear of international terrorism, the government wants to tighten and automate security at borders.

The government is talking to suppliers about the £400m e-Borders project, which will use biometrics and databases to check the identity of passengers even before they travel to the UK.

Any airline that fails to submit passenger lists, or carries passengers that have been refused by the UK, will face a penalty. The system will also record details of who has left the country, making it easier to spot visitors that overstay.

The contract - for the design, development, implementation, support and operation of the IT systems which will link border control authorities - is likely to run for a minimum of five and a maximum of 15 years.

Last month Home Office minister Andy Burnham said e-Borders will be fully operational by March 2014.

The programme will continue to roll out "incrementally to major air, sea and rail ports to ensure complete coverage of international services in and out of the UK by 2010". He added: "The remaining small air and sea ports will be covered in the last stage of the programme from 2010-14."

Under the e-Borders programme, airlines will have to provide advance passenger information (API) and passenger name records (PNR) electronically. Passenger details - including names, dates of birth, nationality and passport details - will be checked against government databases before they board a flight.

The system, supported by biometric visas, means UK authorities will be able to stop undesirable passengers from even travelling to the UK.

And, as of later this year, UK passports will also include a biometric identifier, increasing security further.

Any airline that fails to submit passenger lists, or carries passengers that have been refused by the UK, will face a penalty.

The passenger data provided by the airlines will allow the border agencies to identify what the Home Office describes as "persons of interest" in order to target them for "further action".

This might range from getting immigration officers from the intelligence unit to operate surveillance on a particular flight, or calling in police to arrest a passenger wanted for questioning.

As the Home Office explains: "The database of information and increasing collection of biometric data will make it harder for people to conceal their identity to frustrate our controls and make it easier to remove those who have no right to be in the country."

Several projects that will feed into the bigger programme are already in operation, including Project Semaphore - a prototype system - and Project Iris, which uses biometrics to identify frequent travellers.