INVESTIGATION: UK ePassport Gates. Some interesting numbers… and interesting data withheld
The ePassport infrastructure is an important method of clearing passengers into the United Kingdom, with it being the primary method of clearing a European Union/European Economic Area and UK Citizens quickly.
But I’m sure we’ve witnessed more than one rejection from the ePassport gates (and have suffered the process more than once). That led me to compose a Freedom of Information Act Request to the UK Border Agency after going through more than a few rejections in 2018.
My reasons were that I wanted to understand what was going on with the infrastructure, and the success rates of using such a technology that is becoming such a core part of the passenger experience when entering the United Kingdom
The Freedom of Information Request
I submitted the following to the UK Border Agency, to see what information came back
Here’s the actual data provisioned – with a net 10 million user growth between Fiscal Year 2016/17 and Fiscal Year 2017/18.
How many people were successful vs being rejecting using the ePassport gates?
This is where the answers get a lot more fuzzier and negative from the UK Border Agency – with them withholding the data under section 31 of Freedom of Information Act
"The information is exempt from disclosure under section 31(1)(a) and (e) of the FOI Act. Section 31(1) (a) and (e) provide that information is exempt if its disclosure would or would be likely to prejudice (a) the prevention or detection of crime and (e) the operation of the immigration controls."
So it seems the UK Border Agency – whilst happy to share the numbers going into the gate system, aren’t so happy to share the actual accept/rejection rate.
In the ongoing FoI Request, it goes on to say in favour of releasing the data:
"Border Force recognises that there is a general public interest in openness and transparency in all aspects of government. The release of information about unsuccessful E-Passport Gate transactions would help inform the public debate about the effective use of technology and the resilience of our UK borders. This information would help build greater public confidence in the operational measures undertaken to ensure that passengers are cleared at the border within the agreed service level agreements."
That sounds rather positive to release the information doesn’t it? Then the negative reasons pile in for not releasing the data
"In this case Border Force has determined that providing the information would provide potential criminals with an insight on the technology used and the reasons some passengers are unsuccessful in the use of that technology. This, together with information obtained from other data and FoI requests, would provide useful information, especially to organised criminals, to increase their chances of circumventing UK immigration controls. There is clearly a strong public interest in doing everything we can to detect and prevent crime and protect the public at large. Disclosing the requested information would not be in the public interest as it could impact on the abilities of the police and Border Force to protect the UK border and ensure the proper operation of customs and immigration controls."
"Protecting the UK border is, and always has been, of paramount importance to this Government. It has never been government practice, for reasons of national security, to comment on operational issues relating to border security. This includes offering commentary on the performance of border systems and of ePassport Gates specifically."
So no, whilst the numbers are good, releasing the information could lead to unintended and criminal use of it. If you choose to believe that – is of course – another thing entirely.
Editorial note: as a courtesy, I've emailed Kevin since the entirety of this content is the intellectual property of blogger.