Thursday 10 January 2013

English Defence – another success story for the UK Border Force 2

At 00:27 on 8 January 2013 DMossEsq published English Defence – another success story for the UK Border Force, an article about border control failures in the UK and the US.

The story concerns the leader of the English Defence League – a man known variously as Stephen Yaxley Lennon, Tommy Robinson and Paul Harris – and his trip from the UK to the US and back. There are many border control failures possible and many of them were exhibited in Lennon/Robinson/Harris's trip*. With all of those actual failures to choose from, DMossEsq managed nevertheless to focus on one failure of the UK Border Force that wasn't exhibited.

This mistake has been usefully pointed out by an anonymous commenter.

The newspaper reports of Mr Lennon/Robinson/Harris's trip state that: "He used a self check-in kiosk to board the Virgin Atlantic flight at Heathrow, and was allowed through when the document was checked in the bag drop area". DMossEsq confused "self check-in kiosks" with "smart gates" and concluded that this was an example of the unreliability of the face recognition biometrics used by smart gates. Face recognition biometrics are laughably unreliable but as Mr Lennon/Robinson/Harris hadn't used a smart gate that's irrelevant in this case and DMossEsq wishes to apologise for misleading readers.

How did DMossEsq confuse "self check-in kiosks" with "smart gates"? Frustration. Undischarged anger. Leading to occasional blind spots.

What's frustrating? The Home Office spend a fortune on security systems that depend for their success on biometrics being reliable. Then when you take them to court to make them publish the evidence, they refuse to do so and add that the trials they carried out were so specific that the results wouldn't tell the public anything anyway. In other words, the Home Office have no justification for spending our money on biometrics.

This misfeasance has been going on under every Home Secretary since David Blunkett and under two Permanent Secretaries – Sir David Normington and Dame Helen Ghosh. Now we have a new Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, Mark Sedwill. Let's see if he's any better. Any less frustrating.


* Border control failures:-

1. Leaving the UK. Mr Lennon/Robinson/Harris managed to leave the UK travelling on someone else's passport, Mr Andrew McMaster's. A UK Border Force officer must have checked at passport control and decided that the photograph in the passport looked enough like Mr Lennon/Robinson/Harris. An understandable mistake. But a mistake nevertheless.

2. Entering the US. Mr Lennon/Robinson/Harris's flat print fingerprints didn't match Mr McMaster's which must presumably have been already on file. He failed his primary inspection and was referred for secondary inspection. He didn't turn up. Instead, he managed to get out of the airport. Flat print fingerprinting registers false non-matches about 20 percent of the time, so it's perfectly normal for people to fail primary inspection, it's not a sign of the technology working properly, rather the opposite. The non-match won't have rung any alarm bells but, nevertheless, he shouldn't have been able to avoid secondary inspection and leave the premises.

3. Leaving the US. Mr Lennon/Robinson/Harris, having entered the US as Andrew McMaster, left using his own passport as Paul Harris. (a) Border control for non-US citizens is meant to match entry and exit details. There would have been no entry details for Paul Harris. As far as the system was concerned, Paul Harris was leaving the US without ever having come in. It looks like a mistake to miss that. (b) His ticket was presumably in the name of Andrew McMaster. Why was the man whose passport was in the name of Paul Harris allowed to leave the US on a ticket in the name of Andrew McMaster?

4. Entering the UK. Why was the man whose passport was in the name of Paul Harris allowed to enter the UK on a ticket in the name of Andrew McMaster?

How could the mismatch between the names on the airline ticket and the passport have been discovered? The expensive answer is "eBorders".

As a taxpayer, you have spent a fortune on ePassports and smart gates. They don't work. In the name of border security, you have also spent a fortune on a system called eBorders, which logs all the details of your flights and is meant to provide the raw intelligence to keep the border safe. Clearly eBorders doesn't work either. Otherwise the mismatch between passport and ticket would have been spotted. You have also spent a fortune making hundreds of Border Force staff redundant, to be replaced by computer systems, and then re-hiring them when the Home Office found the computer systems don't work.

You've spent the money. The systems don't work. The staff don't do anything with the data that's collected. But don't worry. The border is secure.

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