By Tom Harper
Last updated at 12:02 AM on 12th July 2009
Government plans to force millions of travellers to hand over personal details were in chaos last night after it was claimed that the anti-terror initiative breaches European laws.
The £750million e-Border scheme, which is due to become fully operational by December next year, had been designed to act as an ‘early warning system’ for immigration officials.
Under the plans, airlines, rail and ferry carriers must record eight pieces of information held on a person’s passport, including their full name, date of birth, nationality and passport number. This data, taken when a ticket is bought, will then be checked against crime, terror and immigration databases at least 24 hours before a journey is due to take place.
In chaos: It had been hoped the £750million scheme would act as an 'early warning system' for immigration officials
Currently, the information is not collected until shortly before a passenger boards a ferry, plane or Eurostar train.
Announcing the scheme in 2005, then Home Secretary David Blunkett said the ‘ambitious’ programme would ‘safeguard our citizens against terrorism, serious and organised crime, and illegal immigration’. But Eurostar, which carried nine million passengers from Europe to Britain last year, is now claiming it breaches EU laws.
Director Seth Williams said: ‘We believe e-Borders is not compatible with French and Belgian law.
‘We would never ask our employees to do something that would put them at risk of arrest or imprisonment, and until this is sorted out we cannot comply with it.’
The Chamber of Shipping, which represents 140 UK ferry operators that carry 20million passengers into Britain each year, has also told the Home Office that
European law makes it impossible for them to implement the scheme.
Many of the concerns centre on Article 78 of the French Code of Penal Procedure, which states that commercial companies cannot collect and store data from state documents, such as passports.
It means that up to 30million visitors to the UK each year could avoid stringent security checks if France and Belgium refuse to exempt rail and ferry workers from their own laws.
The European Commission has also indicated the scheme breaches EU law guaranteeing the free movement of its citizens.
Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘It seems the Home Office is spending hundreds of millions of pounds on a system it can’t legally enforce and it represents a scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money.’
Last night, a spokesman for France’s department for transport said it could not challenge the initiative until it has been fully introduced.
Currently, the scheme is operational on just 100 routes into Britain. A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We remain fully confident that e-Borders is compatible with European law.’