UK Border Security

The Register comments on the government using a border-security failure to push for national ID cards:

The Government spokesman the media could get hold of last weekend, leader of the House of Commons Geoff Hoon, said that the Government was looking into whether there should be “additional” passport checks on Eurostar, and added that the matter showed the need for identity cards because “it’s vitally important that we know who is coming in as well as going out.” Meanwhile the Observer reported plans by ministers to accelerate the introduction of the e-borders system in order to increase border security.

So shall we just sum that up? A terror suspect appears to have fled the country by the simple expedient of walking past an empty desk, and the Government’s reaction is not to put somebody at the desk, or to find out why, during one of the biggest manhunts London has ever seen, it was empty in the first place. No, the Government’s reaction is to explain its abject failure to play with the toys it’s got by calling for bigger, more expensive toys sooner. Asked about passport checks at Waterloo on Monday of this week, the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman said we do have passport checks—which actually we do, sort of. But, as we’ll explain shortly, we also have empty desks to go with them.

Posted on August 11, 2005 at 1:28 PM20 Comments


Davi Ottenheimer August 11, 2005 2:06 PM

Yes, I thought this was an especially funny/sad article. The new anti-terror measures suddenly are represented by a haunting image — the empty desk at Waterloo station. I remember all the hullabaloo when they built the new station and it certainly did not include reasonable security measures then…ironic, really, when you consider what the CRS at the French stations were doing at the time to secure their end of the link.

You could almost turn this into an anti-perimeter campaign, perhaps called “why secure borders fail”. Imagine comparing the image of an empty desk with that of the Berlin Wall, etc.

Anyway, I thought the treatment by the Register was almost as good as their write-up on the reactions to the new “bully” game:

DarkFire August 11, 2005 2:50 PM

Hmm… Yet another typical knee-jerk reaction by the government.

Usually all points of entry are very well… how shall I put it…. watched. It’s just a case of the decission to allow someone in or not, even if a given person is known to represent some form of potential threat.

Sometimes allowing someone to roam freely is more important than revealing that one knows about theior activiuties.

Sorry about the spelling, I’m pretty drunk…

Christian August 11, 2005 3:19 PM

Many people seem to forget that some of the 9/11 hijackers had valid forms of ID. More or new ID cards won’t make a difference.

greg August 11, 2005 4:11 PM

I aggree completly. All this border control assumes that we can indentify the crims from some ID card. But we allready know that it would not have prevented any of the attacks we’er reacting to.

I would prefer not to be hampered at borders for checks that change nothing.

And to further the issue i have with this reacting behavour, is that terroisim is still not a threat. Fire on the subway scares me a lot more. Or just good old fassion car crashes. etc

Davi Ottenheimer August 11, 2005 4:49 PM

ID cards or not, there may still be a certain degree of “hinky” detection possible if the right people are actually in the right places and paying attention.

Davi Ottenheimer August 11, 2005 5:05 PM

Further to my point above, it might help to consider the fact that the modern British concept of a Metropolitain Police force was pioneered by a Home Secretary in the early 1800s who challenged prevailing thinking about security (including labor and import laws) and radically changed society at the time (I wish the name “Peelers” had stuck rather than “Bobbies” in honor of Sir Robert Peel).

Sadly today we see reports that claim “Britain has one of the highest crime rates in the developed world, and one of the most ineffective police forces”

That empty desk really does say a lot about dealing with the real issues in security enforcement, none of which need to point directly to issuing IDs. In fact, given the current ID debate, Peel is probably rolling in his grave…

another_bruce August 12, 2005 2:02 AM

the reason britain has one of the highest crime rates in the developed world is because it took the guns away from all the law-abiding brits, leaving only the criminals armed. i read somewhere that the u.k. has a law prohibiting anybody from carrying something that might be used as a weapon. security is a matter of perception, and my perception is that these policies are incredibly stupid.

Andreas Sikkema August 12, 2005 2:20 AM

Oh, I always thought the country with the highest deaths related to guns is one of the few countries in the “free” world where guns are freely available from your local supermarket. The same country that does not want tourists to enter…

Erik N August 12, 2005 2:34 AM


Take a look at this statistics, and note that the total crime rate per capita of the UK and USA are almost equal:

Then take a look at the murder rates: USA rank 8 when it comes to murders with firearms – there is only two decimal accuracy, but the risk of being murdered with firearms in UK is nil where in USA it is 4 per 100.000. When counting all murders, USA is still 4 times as dangerous as UK. (Make sure you check the stats per capita).

If you look at the other crimes listed, you will see that in all violent crimes, USA is more dangerous or they are equivalent.

So, now, where do you want to live?

DarkFire August 12, 2005 3:12 AM

Highest crime rate? That’s an irrelevant and totally subjective comparison to make. The “crime rate” for any given country depends on a huge number of factors, for example:

1) What actually constitutes a crime.
2) How many offences are actually reported in the first place.
3) The definitions of how crimes are reported.

Granted, there are some things that will be crimes anywhere e.g. murder, but other offences can be peculiar to individual countries. Take j-walking for example. I believe this is an offence in the US, but London would grind to a halt without it!

Etc. etc.

And as for the idea that we have an ineffective police force… How does one measure effectiveness? Probably the best measure is the ratio of recorded crimes to number of people convicted. Unfortunately this has far more to do with the judicial system than explicitly the police.

Moreover, how many police forces in the world would have been able to successfully deal with a huge concert, several large scale demonstrations & marches, a big announcement regarding then Olympics AND several terrorist attacks. And all this in the space of a few weeks!

Anyway…. Back to the point in hand. Let’s not all get too worried about the “empty desk”. Lots of people are very interested in who comes in to the country. They are significantly less interested in who leaves the country.

Grainne, Ireland August 12, 2005 4:43 AM

@greg: “All this border control assumes that we can indentify the crims from some ID card. But we allready know that it would not have prevented any of the attacks we’er reacting to.”

True. But at least when used effectively checking at the border could have found said criminal and held him accountable for his actions.
And another point, the guy in question was found later in Rome – possibly planning another attack. This simple border check would have prevented the criminal from committing another attack.

Gareth August 12, 2005 5:09 AM

I think generally most countries are less concerned about who goes out than who goes in and that strikes me as reasonable.

However, in this instance there was a very pressing and relatively short term reason to be interested in who was leaving – which is why the empty desk was a problem.

Erik N August 12, 2005 5:36 AM


I am aware that there are differences in what is considered a crime in various countries and the effectiveness with which these are reported. But for the two chosen examples I beleive such differences does not alter the statitistics significanctly.

Chung Leong August 12, 2005 8:56 AM

I found it rather strange that people are objecting to the creation of a national ID program, while arguing for the need for exit control. The latter, to me at least, seems far more of a curtailment of one’s civil liberty.

Zwack August 12, 2005 10:38 AM


Given that exit control only applies to people leaving the country and that a National ID scheme would allow the police to stop people on suspicion (usually (ab)used against racial minorities) and demand their ID, a National ID scheme is far more of a curtailment of civil liberties. Exit control, particularly when you are looking for certain people, allows you the option of detaining those people at the border.

Exit control is an effective security measure when you are looking for a specific person. Imagine that you just robbed a bank in the US and are fleeing over the border into Mexico. Exit control would give the border guards a chance of catching you. A National ID card scheme would not help in this situation as the authorities would have to stop everybody in an expanding area and demand their ID. If they don’t know who committed the crime then the ID card wouldn’t even help them if they did stop and ask everyone in the country.

Now do you understand the difference? Both curtail your liberties, but Exit control at least gives you something useful in exchange. In the case of terrorism, if the terrorist is caught leaving the country then he won’t be able to commit more acts when he comes back in.


Chung Leong August 12, 2005 11:49 AM

The nation ID program proposed in the UK would establish a national ID card with biometric data and a national identity registry. To say that the existence of the cards means random ID check on the street is an extrapolation, to say the least.

In any event, the example you gave is plain silly. How on earth would border control know who to stop? Does your bank robber have “bank robber” listed in his passport under profession? Did the police contact them saying Jack Buck had just robbed a bank? Did you robber show his driver’s license before he robbed the bank? Or maybe he was shouting “I am Jack Buck. My passport number is A54849354. Give me all your money!”?

DarkFire August 16, 2005 4:54 AM

The view that exit controlls are an infringement of civil liberties makes no sense to me. We are not talking about a Checkpoint Charlie situation here – stopping people from escaping. We are speaking about collaring people who are wanted in connection with various criminal matters.

How does it curtain ones civil liberties to be caught following the commission of a criminal offence?

This seems to be bordering on hysteria – if one has not committed any offences one will not be stopped from leaving the country. Am I missing something here?

Dave Bell August 16, 2005 8:05 AM

I doubt many people in Britain would see a problem with showing documents at a border, though I know of friends who are balking at the levels of border controls now required by the US.

And in this case the terrorist suspect may have travelled on his own ID. We don’t really know for sure, yet.

But, in the middle of a massive search, nobody seemed to bother with Waterloo, and he got past the French checks too.

All the high-tech security documents in the world will fail if nobody checks them, or nobody is told who to look for.

David September 3, 2007 2:45 AM

seems to me the uk government needs me to help them take decisions on this matter. maybe it has to do with the laisses faire approach most brits have to life. the same can be said about the way they educate their children – continue like this and the UK will not exist for much longer! A beautiful country but a useless bunch of inhabitants (or anyway 99% of them)

There are a right, a wrong and no in between.

Introduce the best technology available to control borders (enter & exit)and punnish offenders severely.

I`ll watch the incompetence of british authorities from the side line.

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