May 20 2010

Statistics on UK travel surveillance and control

It’s tempting to think that ID and PNR-based travel control systems don’t “work” as anti-terrorist measures (they obviously work as surveillance measures and as general law enforcement dragnets, as do house-to-house searches) solely because of the incompetence of the TSA and DHS. Could they be more effective elsewhere, if better implemented?  That seems to be the view of some sectors of center-right opinion in Europe, where the EU continues to consider a mandate for members states to set up their own “Passenger Analysis Units” to decide who to allow to fly, even while the the European Parliament has defined strict standards that they would have to meet.

Newly-reported data from the UK, however, suggests the UK PNR scheme — the most developed and extensive in the EU to date — has all the same problems as the US one. This suggests that the defcst are in the concept, not the details of its execution, and calls in question whether any PNR scheme is likely to likely to be able to meet the Europarl’s criteria for acceptability.

The UK’s National Border Targeting Centre (NBTC) and “e-borders” scheme was tested in 2008 with 30 million PNRs of airline passengers on flights to and from the UK, began regular operations in March 2009, and in March 2010 moved from unmarked premises near Heathrow into a new and larger purpose-built facility in Manchester as it geared up to “vet” 250 million travelers per year by 2014.

This week’s Mail on Sunday reveals the scorecard to date, in addition to the PNR data passed to the government:

  • £1.2billion (US$1.75 billion) expended on the e-borders scheme.
  • 48,682 people investigated after being flagged by the computer system according to secret algorithms (47,000 of whom were never charged with any offense, and were presumably innocent.
  • Investigative reports on 14,000 people produced, retained, and shared with other government agencies.
  • 1,000 people denied entry to the UK.
  • “An internal Home Office document revealed that during testing one ‘potential suspect’ turned out to be an airline passenger with a spinal injury flying into Britain with his nurse.”
  • “The Home Office … refused to say if any terrorists had been caught by the system, despite it being a counter-terrorist measure.”  (We assume this means there were no arrests, prosecutions, or convictions for terrorism-related offense.)

One thought on “Statistics on UK travel surveillance and control

  1. Pingback: PNR used to investigate travellers « The Lift – Legal Issues in the Fight against Terrorism

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