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UK struggles with biometric border crossing software

Faulty immigration database mixing up biometric and biographic data
UK struggles with biometric border crossing software

A UK government immigration database was found to have mixed up biometric and biographical data of more than 76,000 people, leaving some of them unable to prove their right to work, rent housing and access state-funded medical treatment.

The UK Home Office-operated database, called Person Centric Data Platform (PCDP), stored information on 177 million immigrants, including identity documents, visa applications, and biometric information. Errors in the database, however, have led to “merged identities” of two or more people and listings of incorrect names, photographs or immigration status, according to leaked internal documents seen by The Guardian.

The issues have contributed to delays in immigration processing, long lines at borders and issuing faulty identity cards. Immigrants to the UK who have found that their information has been swapped with strangers have been battling to prove their identity and access their rights.

The affected database is part of the Home Office’s £400 million effort to digitize visa and immigration systems.

In February, the Home Office denied that there is a “systemic” problem with Atlas, the computer system tool used by immigration caseworkers and border authorities to access the PCDP database. The leaked documents, however, show that the problem of “merged identities” is a longstanding issue.

The department has set up a special team to manage the problem and attempted to improve the accuracy of the database with a tool that flags potential merged identities. The tool has so far identified more than 38,000 errors, affecting at least two people, according to the paper.

The Home Office claims that the errors have affected 0.02 percent of individuals in the database.

EES app may not be ready for another year

The UK may soon have another problem on its hands related to migration, this time with the planned Entry/Exit System (EES) which will require residents of countries outside the EU and Schengen area – including the UK – to register facial and fingerprint biometrics.

The EES is expected to launch across the Schengen Area in the fall. To avoid long queues at the border, the European Commission has been developing a mobile application for border crossing pre-registration. Travel, logistics and shipping companies, however, are growing more concerned over the uncertain launch date of the app.

Although the Commission is promising that the app will be ready when the EES starts operation, trade organizations such as Logistics UK estimate that a more likely launch date in France is “around the summer of 2025,” Politico reports.

“For the app to be effective it needs to have been fully tested with all types of end-users and in all languages well before the start of operations,” says Nichola Mallon, the organization’s Head of Trade and Devolved Policy.

The EU Commission plans to supply the software but each member state will have to build a user interface, potentially leading to delays, companies told the UK parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee last week. Freight operators are especially concerned that long queues at Dover port could disrupt the UK supply chain.

Logistics firms are not the only ones having doubts about the app’s timeline. Eurostar, which operates trains through the Channel Tunnel, said it will put 49 EES kiosks in London to ensure long queues are avoided. The French government has so far only allocated 24 kiosks.

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