Cutting edge technology will allow the Border Agency to track almost all non-European Union nationals arriving in the UK by 2010, the Home Office has claimed.
New systems will also count and check every passenger against security watch-lists by 2014.
The systems for the e-Borders programme are projected to cost £650 million and are being delivered by the Trusted Borders consortium - led by Raytheon and including Accenture, Detica, Serco, QinetiQ, Steria, Capgemini and DAON.
The Home Office said the new systems have screened 50 million travellers entering the country since the programme’s introduction in November last year. Some 2,000 were arrested and some of these have subsequently been convicted of crimes including murder, drug trafficking and sex offences.
The programme remains controversial, in part because of its heavy reliance on extensive databases of citizen information, and its interaction with the £4.7 billion ID cards scheme, which the Conservative Party have already threatened to axe, if it forms the next government.
In June, the government came under heavy fire from MPs for its insistence on creating more large databases, and was urged to prove their worth before embarking on more projects.
New automated e-border gate technology will be trialled at Manchester Airport this month, with the aim of tightening security and also improving the speed of checks.
Facial recognition gates will compare the faces of passengers from the UK and European Economic Area to their biometric passports. A new 250-strong hi-tech centre for border monitoring will also be based in Manchester.
The Home Office said that by the end of 2008 the e-borders systems will screen the “vast bulk” of foreign travellers coming in and out of the UK. It is starting with the routes decided as the highest risk, and e-borders watch lists will flag up passengers on “no fly” lists, barring them from flying into the UK. Systems will be used at borders of other countries, and checks will take place before, during and after passenger flights.
A freight targeting system, already in use at docks to handle roll on-roll off ferries, will be extended to all goods arrival points during next year. It automatically applies risk-based profiles to arriving cargo in order to help with officer intervention.
Fixed and mobile radiation detection equipment is in use at key sea and airports to screen for nuclear material. Automatic numberplate recognition technology, to track vehicle movements and match against watch lists, is in place at ten ports and will be upgraded by next year to improve information sharing with the police.
The e-borders programme forms part of a three-pronged security strategy, home secretary Jacqui Smith explained. The plans also include fingerprint visa requirements for three-quarters of the world’s population and the roll out later this year of ID cards to foreign nationals living in the UK.
"The UK has one of the toughest borders in the world and we are determined to ensure it stays that way,” she said. “Our hi-tech electronic borders system will allow us to count all foreign nationals in and out of the UK, while checking them against watch-lists.”
The new systems are also designed to speed up parts of the security process. Some 100,000 people are enrolled on the Iris Recognition Immigration System, which is in place at 10 ports and allows passengers already on the database to pass through automated security gates. The trial facial recognition system at Manchester Airport could be rolled out to other airports if successful.
The UK Border Agency, which comprises the former Border and Immigration Agency, UK Visas and border customs, has this year barred almost 6,000 people from entering the country, and since April it has seized £83 million of illegal drugs and 800 dangerous weapons.