A force to be reckoned with: strengthening borders through technology investment



Brodie Clark, Head of Border Force, UK Border Agency, Home Office, UK


On 1 April 2009 the UK Border Agency became a full executive agency of the Home Office. This follows a successful year as a shadow agency in which we brought  together the work of the former Border and Immigration Agency, customs detection work at the border from HM Revenue & Customs and UK visas, to establish a  single and strong border force.

As an agency we control the entry of people and goods to the UK, protecting the public from people or goods which can cause us harm, as well as protecting tax  revenues. The creation of the UK Border Agency means that we are better able to deploy our resources, including a wide range of technology used to target those  people who attempt to bring illegal goods and people into the UK. Technology such as x-ray scanners, carbon dioxide, drug and radiation detection machines and cameras are used together with the intelligence and skill of our officers on the frontline.

This joint approach is delivering impressive results. Since the UK Border Agency was formed in April 2008 as a shadow agency we have seized 900 million cigarettes and £300 million worth of illegal drugs at the border. What’s more, in 2008 we stopped over 28,000 attempts to cross the channel illegally and searched over 1 million freight vehicles.

Screening freight

Screening technology has played an important role in helping us to achieve these results.

In the same way that baggage is scanned at an airport, we use x-ray systems to identify smuggled illegal goods such as weapons, tobacco and drugs concealed  within the vehicle.

Technologies such as x-ray are Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) systems, and can penetrate a container to produce an image of the contents. It allows us to carry out examinations of freight without having to unload the goods for manual searches, or intrusive examinations such as dismantling objects or crates.

Throughout 2009, we will be working with our partners, to install fixed x-ray systems at Dover and at our juxtaposed controls in Coquelles, France. But it’s not just illegal goods that the UK Border Agency is interested in – we also screen freight vehicles for people hiding amongst goods arriving at the French ports of Dunkirk, Coquelles and Calais. When searching for people at our juxtaposed controls in France, we use technology such as carbon dioxide monitors and heart beat detectors – as well as specially trained detector dogs.

Smugglers are increasingly organised and sophisticated in their illegal activities and it is essential that we have the necessary tools to combat this. These  technologies provide the UK Border Agency with an invaluable tool when tackling border crime.

Changing world

The constant threat of criminality and terrorism has changed the way people and goods travel across the world. The UK government is investing in the latest  technology to ensure the UK Border Agency can find dangerous materials earlier.

The Cyclamen Programme is the UK’s radiation screening initiative designed to enhance counter-terrorism measures at the border. These radiation screening systems have been installedat ports and airports across the UK to detect illicit nuclear and radiological material in the stream of commerce. The radiation detection technology deployed includes fixed and mobile capabilities.

The equipment is passive, in that it does not emit radiation, but merely detects the presence of radiation as it passes through the portals.

Screening people

In addition to screening freight, we also screen passengers to detect illicit goods. Increasing passenger volumes make this a particularly tough challenge. We have installed new millimetre wave cameras at ports and airports throughout the UK which help us to identify those passengers who may be hiding something from us.

This new imaging technology measures waves naturally emitted by the human body, exposing ‘cold’ objects such as metal, plastic, or ceramics concealed under clothing. It doesn’t generate emissions itself, but creates an image from reflected body energy.

Drug tracing machines are also used to detect traces of illegal substances on a person and even on their clothes. The machines are so sensitive they can identify  minute traces of drugs including cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and cannabis, even if the person had washed their hands. The resulting reading indicates how many drugs are present in the sample and at what levels.

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