e-Borders: still over here, still a mess – article for The Register

Last week, The Register published my review of e-Borders, a government IT scheme that deserves more attention than it gets. Presumably politicians’ wish to sound tough on immigration stands in the way, but the UK’s system for tracking international journeys has big problems that it is hard to see anyone solving.

The basic problem is that e-Borders was built for air travel, where lots of data is collected routinely, few people travel at short notice and high levels of security are accepted. But that makes it a poor fit for ferries and international trains. Then there’s the fact that it’s sort-of optional for travel within Europe, and as for the last government’s nutty plan to get all yacht owners to apply 48 hours in advance to sail internationally…

The scheme is overdue a major rethink, not least because it was designed for nothing less than perfection (full data, provided in advance, on all border crossings) and as a result often gets nothing. This is particularly true for outbound journeys by train and ship, where it’s routine for no official border check to take place. This aim for perfection is rather like aspects of the ID card project – and they were designed in parallel. As I say in the article:

The former [ID cards] would prove your membership of Club Blighty, while e-Borders would be the bouncer that might let you in or out, in return for your name, passport or ID card details, travel, reservation and payment details.

Talking of ID cards, I’m delighted to say that the London School of Economics library has bought a couple of copies of my book Card declined as recommended reading for MSc students taking course IS489 Data Governance: Privacy, Openness and Transparency. If you are on this course then I’m happy to tackle queries (and, of course, you are very welcome to buy your own copy).