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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 September, 2004, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Border surveillance plan unveiled
Passport being stamped
Passport information will be stored electronically
The government is spending millions of pounds to keep a record of passengers travelling to and from the UK.

Project Semaphore is another strand in the government's e-borders scheme to create high-tech border controls.

The 15m scheme will see passenger information stored electronically and linked to databases kept by law enforcers.

The government will combine the e-borders scheme with biometric ID cards to track individuals entering the UK.


Initially the system will target six million passengers a year travelling on a number of international air routes, identified by borders agencies and the police as risky.

Passport information and the passenger details collected when air tickets are booked will be routinely stored electronically.

The details can then be checked against police and intelligent service databases.

"Project Semaphore, which will be underway by the end of the year, is a key first step in putting in place comprehensive electronic analysis of passenger travel data, which will be crucial to being able to register entry and exit without gross inconvenience to passengers," said Home Secretary David Blunkett in a statement.

Immigration control
Authorities will be able to identify those who overstay visits to UK

"Access to information about passengers before they travel will help in the fight against illegal immigration, particularly document and identity abuse. It will also aid law enforcement and counter terrorism," added Immigration Minister Des Browne.

Many countries are concerned with tighter surveillance at their borders in the light of increased terrorist threats.

The UK project is very similar to one being implemented in the US this week.

US-VISIT will collect, assess, process and retain passenger details and biometric information on visitors to the US.

The project has come under fire from privacy and human rights groups.

Head of Privacy International Simon Davies sees great similarities between the two schemes.

Tracking movements

"Project Semaphore appears to be a mini version of the US system for sharing information across borders," he said.

"The motivations appears to be to create a hard outer shell for the country but the purposes extend beyond anti-terrorism and immigration controls," he added.

The fact that the system will be linked to internal databases could potentially allow checks on other things such as criminal or benefits records, he said.

Linking the system to the proposed ID card scheme will create "a seamless identity check, tracking a person at the border and their movements internally", said Mr Davies.

The huge amount of information stored could lead to more people being turned away at the border.

Low risk

"The fate that befell Yusuf Islam (formerly the singer Cat Stevens) will happen to a countless number of other travellers," predicted Mr Davies.

The government is convinced that the system will prove more convenient for travellers and citizens alike.

"Technology will allow us to speed through low risk passengers, helping British business and visitors to the UK," said Mr Browne.

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