Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Holiday plans

You may have seen reports of the government’s plans to make all holiday goers, businessmen, and day-trippers from the UK record their trip on a database. The regulations will track up to as many as 250 million journeys from the UK, including light aircraft, fishing vessels, and even channel swimmers.

The plan, brought in by the UK Borders Agency, is being phased in, with the plan to cover 95% of people by the end of 2010, and will carry a hefty 5,000 fine for non-compliance. Why?

According to e-borders; "It allows us to secure the UK's Borders by screening people as they travel in and out of the UK. E-borders helps the police catch criminals attempt to escape justice."
The e-borders website gives the reasons for the scheme’s necessity. There are four of them:
1. in order to keep a comprehensive record of everyone who crosses our border;
2. in order to strengthen the security of those who live in and visit our country;
3. in order to make it easier for those who are travelling and trading legitimately; and
4. in order to maintain tight control of our border.

These four are all worded so as to be vague, and therefore un-quantifiable in terms of success. Obviously they are supposed to keep a comprehensive record – the system would have failed in its most basic practical function if it didn’t record who crosses the borders!

The third point is the most ridiculous of the four. In what possible way will handing over details make travelling out of the country easier? “Make it easier” – make what easier? The act of travelling perhaps, or maybe simply being able to sleep peacefully knowing that your personal and travel details are safe in the government’s hands.

Which brings up the most concerning aspect of the entire venture, aside possibly from the civil liberties/big brother scare that will no doubt be had over the measure. The government will hold these travel details in a database for, mercifully, “no more than 10 years.” Given how much legislation regarding personal information has changed in the last decade, how much more will it have the potential to change in the ten years of holding the information! Any details given will be held across at least two potential changes of government and countless more changes in policy direction.

There is nothing to stop the details being collected, and the five years later being informed that, due to extenuating circumstances, they now need to be kept for 15 years, or 25 years. And you need to provide more details next time as well.

This is, of course, all assuming that they don’t go and lose them in the first place.


  1. Who cares? I dont care if the first of the four reasons for implementing the scheme is redundant. I dont care if point three makes little sense. I dont care if the government keeps a record of my travel movements for 10 or 10,000 years.

    What I do care about is living in a society that adapts to the threats posed by a changing world. Globalisation is seriously strengthening the perpetrators or organised crime and terrorism and it is the job of our government to adapt in such a way so as to maintain the security of its law-abiding citizens.

    Any objection to the scheme must be along the lines of "it wont achieve its objectives" or "it will cause greater problems than those it deals with", not "some of its less important justifications are vague and possibly superfluous".

  2. Anonymous, thanks for your comment.

    The reason I object to the scheme is not that it won’t achieve its objectives – the fact is that its objectives are laid out in such a way as to make them impossible to assess.

    So far, you cannot say that it has no been effective in catching people, but how effective is it compared say, to any other method of decent passport screening. The e-Borders scheme has already screened over 82m passengers travelling to Britain, leading to more than 2,900 arrests, for crimes including murder, drug dealing and sex offences.

    Does this mean that the government should keep all of the travel details for 10 years, during which time a change of government would allow greater freedom to use that travel plan information in conjunction with whatever they want?

    What I’m saying is that the scheme, when implemented to all travellers, is so loosely worded in its aims that no-one will be able to tell whether or not it is achieving its objectives! Catching people is about ticking boxes, it doesn’t prove that anyone is any safer under the e-borders scheme than under a more vigorous passport control system.

    I hope this answers your objections.



  3. Well given that the screening is leading to arrests, it seems fair to say that the scheme is indeed achieving its objectives - it is putting bad-guys behind bars/getting them out of our country. To me it seems that the objective is clear: to catch/help other countries to catch criminals. What more do you want?

    On the one hand, you express concern about the civil liberties/big brother scare (whatever that may be) and on the other, you seem to be in favour of a more vigorous passport control system...?

    What would a "more vigorous" or "decent" scheme for passport screening entail?

    I also don't understand the issue about the information passing across governments. Why should one elected government be any more suitable to hold such information than another. This is a democracy after all. Governments wishing to use the information against the wishes of the British public will get voted out (or not voted in). I still don't really see the issue...

  4. I’ll say this again – putting people behind bars does not automatically equate to increasing security. The objective, as far as I can see, is not specifically to catch ‘bad guys’, but to help the government monitor the movement of young British Muslims who leave the country to go to Pakistan or Afghanistan for three months on an intensive training course as part of their radicalisation. The fact that they catch common criminals is merely an added bonus.

    By a more vigorous passport control system, I do not mean the government keeping the details of every flight made by a British person for ten years. That is an incursion on civil liberties – making sure the person on the passport is who they say they are and enquiring about the purpose of their visit is not.

    It is entirely possible for the government to have a tighter passport control system that does not involve the long-term storage of personal data for every individual.

    On your last point, I’m not entirely sure what you are saying. The British public do not get the chance to vote out a government if they pass a piece of legislation they don’t like. Labour could pass this measure and begin collecting data, and there is nothing we can do short of protest, lobby our MP, or vote them out in six month’s time. Unless a Commons rebellion takes place, there’s not a lot we can do to stop it!

    Again, thanks for your comment.


  5. Putting criminals behind bars does increase my sense of security. In fact, I think that most people would agree that prison is the safest place for criminals - hence why we put them there. In addition, monitoring the movements of British Muslims, Christians, Jews, Scientologists, etc. who are travelling to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia or Luxemburg in order to receive an intensive training course as part of their radicalisation does seem to have its security benefits. If it helps to identify such people and put them under surveillance, then great - it will significantly reduce the change of there being another 07/07.

    I think it funny to suggest that our passport authorities do not take every effort to make "sure the person on the passport is who they say they are and enquire about the purpose of their visit". That is the status quo, and I have experienced it on many occasions. (I am not particularly suspicious-looking, and travel to relatively innocuous places.) If you don't think such measures are stringent enough, then what is wrong with having both a step-up of current measures and this new one? If in 10 years time, the pattern of movement of one potential terrorist (over a 10-year period) can lead to the uncovering of a terror plot then I think that is great.

    And since when was there a pre-institutional liberty to be free from having one's air-travel monitored? From where is it derived? What are the reasons for its existence? Is it really an injustice?

    My last point was that the concern about people's travel movements passing from government-to-government is over-stated. If people do not trust the conservatives with such information, then they will not be elected. (Unless, they include in their program a desire to scrap the legislation.) Lobbying MPs, taking part in elections, etc. are all good mechanisms for ensuring that legislation is not passed that a majority of British are not in favour of. Hooray for liberal constitutional democracy.