UK takes lead on surveillance of passengers
01 December 2003
The UK government is planning to introduce an "Authority to Carry" scheme which will see all passengers entering or leaving the country being checked against police and security databases to see if they are a "known security or immigration risk". If they are identified as a "risk" they will not be allowed to board the plane. The only country to currently operate such a system - the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) - is Australia. APIS checks the data on every passenger at the time of check-in which is run through police and security agency databases which throw up one of three responses: Green for permission to board, Yellow for allowed to board but question or keep under surveillance on arrival and Red for boarding refused. The UK also intends to keep data for an indefinite period.
The UK plan came to light when it sought to amend a draft EU proposal by calling for passenger data to be handed over before a flight has taken off (at the time of check-in) rather than when it takes off:
"[The proposal] does not support the board/not board principle of the UK "Authority to Carry" scheme, which is currently being developed and for which there is already provision in UK legislation. It relies on carriers transmitting passenger information at the time of check-in and will enable a check to be made against Home Office (Interior Ministry) databases and, in the event that the passenger is identified as a known security or immigration risk may result in authority to carry the passenger being denied." (EU document: 13363/03, 15.10.03)
The UK legislation referred to is the Immigration (Passenger Information) Order 2000 (based on an amendment to the 1971 Immigration Act in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, Section 18). The Order requiring information on passengers to be handed over applies to ships and aircraft which are "expected" to arrive in or leave the UK. Passenger information can be requested on a specific plane or for "all the carrier's (ships or) aircraft". A "request" placed on a carrier "continues in force" until withdrawn or renewed (which it can be every six months). The data required is not restricted to "foreign nationals", it covers all passengers including UK and EU citizens. Up to now the power has only been used for specific flights or flights from and to specific destinations (eg: Pakistan).
The reference to "Home Office databases" means those held by MI6 (the UK's overseas intelligence agency), MI5 (the internal security service), the DIS (Defence Intelligence Staff at the Ministry of Defence), the Special Branch, the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), Immigration and Nationality Department and HM Customs.
The Home Office told parliament in an Explanatory Memorandum on 5 November that there was an additional power to conduct the surveillance of internal travel within the UK under the Terrorism Act 2000 under Section 17 of Schedule 7 which covers: "Provision of passenger information" for a specific ship or aircraft or "to all ships or aircraft". The Schedule in Section 13 allows officials to set conditions on "embarkation or disembarkation of passengers". The scope of Schedule 17 covers travel inside the UK.
The UK government also wants to introduce, in the new Asylum Bill (Full-text
), an obligation on airlines on selected flights to photocopy all passenger travel documents before they board so that they can be checked.
Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:
"The UK government is to introduce security checks on everyone coming in and leaving and on all those travelling internally too - either to place them under surveillance or to refuse them the right to travel.
The intention is to create a global system for the surveillance of movement and the refusal of rights of boarding - with the UK and USA at the forefront of this move in international fora."