The £500m UK e-borders programme is yet to deliver many of the anticipated benefits it promised, with issues remaining in catching smugglers and terrorists, an official watchdog has claimed.
John Vine, chief inspector of borders and immigration, said that the programme, which has taken a decade to develop, was intended to improve immigration controls by collecting passenger data.
However, in his report, Vine found that high profile alerts were not being used to detect high-risk individuals at any ports that were inspected, aside from Heathrow Airport.
Vine also found that e-borders had not delivered the planned increases in passenger data collection; it currently only covers 65 per cent of all passenger movements into and out of the UK, but had been aiming for 95 per cent by December 2010.
He said this was primarily because the initial business case had not anticipated risks relating to the compatibility of the e-borders scheme with EU law for passengers on EU flights or its "lack of alignment" with rail and maritime operations.
Vine found that poor data quality and the "prioritisation of immigration over customs work" resulted in the National Border Targeting Centre (NBTC) staff being overwhelmed by the amount of matches the Customs IT database found in relation to the interception and seizure of prohibited and restricted goods at the border.
As a result, over 649,000 records relating to potential drug and tobacco smuggling were deleted from the system without being read.
"This amounted to three-quarters of all the customs work generated in NBTC and impacted on the ability of e-borders to deliver anticipated benefits in relation to the seizure of prohibited and restricted goods," the report reads.
The independent report gives the programme 14 recommendations, of which two have been redacted or deleted by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, because of national security.
One of the recommendations is for the NBTC to issue clear instructions to frontline staff on the actions they must take when they receive alerts about the arrivals of individuals who are subject of either a deportation order or exclusion.
Another is for the provision of a technical solution to ensure that NBTC operators cannot log off the IT system without having de-selected all unprocessed matches.
Vine said that the Home Office needs to be prescriptive about the e-borders programme. "The Home Office should now define clearly what the aims of the e-borders programme are ahead of the new procurement exercise, and be transparent about what e-borders will deliver and by when," he said.
Currently, Semaphore is the IT platform procured to test the e-borders concept. It continues to be used until the Home Office procures an e-borders IT system that is "fully capable".