IT project in hot water over IBM role
By Sylvia Pfeifer,
Last Updated: 11:17pm BST 11/08/2007
The Government's flagship IT programme designed to tackle illegal immigration was facing controversy last night after it emerged that IBM, the American computer giant conducting the pilot scheme, had joined one of the two consortia bidding for the 1.2bn contract.
IBM is understood to have become a top-level partner in the BT Emblem consortium, which is led by BT and includes Lockheed Martin, the US defence giant, and LogicaCMG. The rival consortium, Trusted Borders, is led by Raytheon and includes Serco, the support services group, and Accenture.
IBM's pilot project, dubbed Semaphore, was launched three years ago and is viewed as having been broadly successful, which is why the company's involvement with the BT consortium is likely to prove controversial.
“IBM's involvement with the BT consortium will definitely give it an advantage in the bidding process,” said one industry executive. “Given that they've been running the pilot it seems a rather unfair advantage.”
The Home Office declined to comment on whether IBM had joined the BT consortium but said: “The programme is in the last phase of its procurement process, therefore we are unable to disclose any information that is commercially sensitive. The contract will be awarded in October.” BT and IBM declined to comment.
Last night a source close to the bidding process insisted that IBM had always been part of the original BT consortium but said it had moved up to a tier-one status in recent weeks.
The 1.2bn, 10-year “electronic borders” programme is one of the most high-profile procurement contracts currently up for grabs. Once operational – it will be rolled out to all major ports by the end of 2010 – it will log movements in and out of the country and allow border control agencies to deny entry to illegal immigrants and anyone suspected of criminal involvement.
In total, 53 separate pieces of information on travellers to and from Britain could be provided to the Government under the scheme. Airlines and ships will have to provide nine basic details about travellers, including their name, sex, date of birth, nationality and type of travel document and the issuing state. But if the companies have more information about their passengers, the Government wants them to hand it over so that it can be cross-checked against lists of criminals and other suspects.
Ministers also believe that the programme will help stop migrant, tax and benefit scams, which are estimated to cost 2bn a year. The scheme could also be used to target suspected tobacco smugglers and prevent offenders who have failed to pay fines from leaving the country.
Earlier this month it also emerged that airlines had suggested an expansion of the programme to allow them to share information on “air rage” incidents and draw up a blacklist of passengers who would not be allowed to fly again.
At present British airlines report all “disruptive passengers” or air-rage incidents to the Civil Aviation Authority but not the names of those responsible. In the 12 months to March 2006, there were more than 1,300 incidents.