The UK’s latest weapon in the fight against terrorists, known criminals and would-be illegal migrants was opened yesterday by the Home Secretary Alan Johnson.
The National Border Targeting Centre (NBTC) is the UK Border Agency’s hi-tech hub where watch-list checks on passengers entering and leaving Britain will be carried out.
The unit, based in Manchester, will replace the smaller Joint Border Operations Centre (JBOC) at Heathrow as the operational hub for e-Borders, which electronically checks passenger data before they even set foot on a plane.
UK Border Agency officers will work alongside the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the Police to share intelligence and issue alerts where a suspect is identified by the electronic border checks.
It is expected that the new centre will create 250 jobs in the North West of England, and enable the UK Border Agency to meet its tough target of screening 100 per cent of passenger movements in and out of the UK by air, sea or rail by 2014.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson said:
“Thanks to our hi-tech e-Borders system the UK now has one of the strongest borders in the world. It means we can count people in and out of the UK and capture known criminals, terror suspects and illegal migrants while gathering evidence against smugglers and people traffickers.
“Already e-Borders has had a huge impact, helping us catch more than 5,400 criminals including rapists and murderers.
“This new centre will up the ante, increasing the amount of data we can screen, so we can track all passenger movements in and out of the UK by 2014.”
More than 100 million passenger movements in and out of the UK were checked against UK Border Agency and police watch lists last year. The checks alerted the police to wanted UK and foreign nationals flying into British airports, allowing arrests to be made as soon as the individual landed or for them to be returned on the next flight.
The NBTC receives information on passengers and crew and, over time, will check an estimated 250 million passenger movements per year. It will also process visa application data for overseas posts by checking the applicant and sponsor details against watch-lists.
These watch-list checks are just one part of the triple ring of security that protects Britain, alongside fingerprint checks when people apply for visas and ID cards locking foreign nationals to one identity.
Since the e-Borders system was launched in May 2009 it has had considerable success – leading to the identification of people smugglers, the confiscation of fraudulently used British passports and the seizure of millions of pounds worth of drugs and tobacco. Since May there have been over 30,000 alerts.