Immigration

Raytheon and Ministers must share the blame for eBorders farce

By: SA Mathieson
Published: Monday, September 8, 2014 - 10:29 GMT Jump to Comments

Raytheon will receive nearly half a billion pounds for its work on the cancelled eBorders project, but it was still a deal many would prefer to lose.

The announcement that US contractor Raytheon will receive £224m for the unlawful cancellation of its contract to build the eBorders system, which the home secretary Theresa May binned soon after taking office in 2010, would be dismal news at any time. During a period of austerity, it’s all the more galling.

Tony Blair’s government commissioned eBorders to track every journey in and out of the UK, using advanced passenger information collected on travellers to allow checks against security watch lists before people ever reached the country. But the system was based on a small trial which only covered airlines, which were used to onerous security requirements and already collected API.

The situation in 2014 tells its own story: the UK authorities now receive API on 95% of air passengers, 20% of sea arrivals – and 0% of international train travellers. Raytheon has been paid £260m for work it had already completed, so the public has shelled out nearly half a billion pounds – the capital cost of a substantial new hospital – for a border security system with immense holes, one being the Channel Tunnel.

eBorders was conceptually botched from the start. It aimed to impose US levels of border security on a country that had free movement agreements with its European neighbours, some of which saw the collection of passenger information purely for Britain’s security as illegal. It assumed that train and ferry operators would be willing to ask international passengers for far more data than before, slowing down services, annoying customers and costing money – and possibly breaking the law in countries of departure. Unsurprisingly, they resisted. The UK also has an entirely open land border with the Republic of Ireland, providing yet another gap.

The system should never have been commissioned; all these problems were obvious from early on. Arguably, the British electorate paid a high price for electing a government that liked to green-light schemes (also including identity cards, also since binned) that would make it appear tough on security, rather than developing targeted measures that might actually be of use. Some elements of eBorders bordered on farce: private yachts would have to request entry to Britain before setting sail from the Continent, with the government apparently planning to fine sea-farers for experiencing the wrong direction of wind.

Raytheon may appear to be a winner from all this, and it has certainly received a lot of money for little result. However, such projects are hardly the ideal ones to undertake. eBorders is now a by-word for government IT incompetence, and associating yourself with incompetence is never a good thing, even if it is someone else’s. Raytheon had to undertake legal action to secure much of its money, presumably at some cost, both financial and in staff time.

eBorders can be blamed on the last government’s ministers; Raytheon was trying to implement a project that faced practical and legal problems that it had no way of tackling. However, it did not have to bid for it. A careful examination of the plans would have revealed the flaws, even if government officials said they could be overcome.

Lawyers like to argue that someone representing themselves in court has a fool for a client. The lesson for suppliers from eBorders is that believing a potential client’s representations about a project can make you a fool if you win it. That even applies if the client is the government. For a project such as eBorders, that appeared to have been created with political messaging as the priority, it particularly applies to the government.

Home Office ordered to pay £224m to eBorders firm (BBC)

Poor dialogue jeopardising national security, says border watchdog (The Information Daily, November 2013)

UK.gov's eBorders zombie still lurks under the English Channel (The Register, September 2013)

Weakness in border security due to lack of paperwork (The Information Daily, August 2013)

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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