We are hearing of a lot of hand-wringing about tracking down returning jihadists. Our own party leader has called to remove the passports and possibly British citizenships of jihadists returning to Britain – but that relies on identifying them in the first place. We are assured our security services have got tabs on them, but the quoted number of 500 of them seems to be in error, with a figure of 1500 being bandied around recently.
The problem in this country is that we don’t know who’s who. There is no definitive identification of an individual. The only proposed solution seems to have been biometric ID cards, but that ignores the problem of no joined thinking in Whitehall about pulling together the myriad of numbers that we all have – NI number, Driving Licence number, National Health numbers, Police record number, passport number: the list is endless. And when we are born, we don’t have any of them, we get a piece of paper with our name, address and parent’s names on – not exactly an indexed piece of information in its raw state.
I have already addressed this particular problem in another article, published here, so for today I am going to concentrate on tracking those who travel in and out of the country, which is the issue when it comes to jihadists. Indeed, being able to track those who travel would be important with respect to other criminals, and it doesn’t matter if they are British or foreign, we just want to know where they are: here or in another country.
The Norwegians do this to some extent. When you both arrive and depart from a non-Scandinavian country (Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway have their own open border system) your passport is scanned for your name, nationality and passport number. And when you leave it is scanned. They know when Norwegians are out of the country, and when foreigners are in their country.
This could be extended to associating the passport with a boarding card on both departure and arrival. On arrival, this might involve some passengers throwing theirs away, but they would soon learn to keep the boarding card with their passport till after arrival ! For departures, given that airlines check every passenger’s passports, it would be possible for the Border Force to collect the airline’s (or shipping line) data, electronically of course. This need not be an expensive project, although it must be kept SIMPLE to both work and stay in budget.
And when the person arrives, if they are arriving from a different country to the one they travelled out of the country to, then they might be asked some awkward questions, like:
“I see you flew to Kayseri in Turkey 18 months ago, but you are returning from Baghdad. That’s an interesting journey in between… tell me more!”
It’s not just jihadists such a system would be useful in tracking – all sorts of criminals including drug “mules” (frequent trips to the same 3rd world place) and tax evaders (seeing if they really have spent 6 months and one day out of the UK), for example. And it would apply to both British citizens and foreigners.
There is always a concern about the government having your personal information and misusing it – I didn’t want to have a biometric ID card for that reason. But this is just pulling together data that is already available, and the potential for misuse against innocent people is minimal. If there is to be any chance of implementing a policy such as Nigel Farage has advocated then this kind of tracking is almost a pre-requisite.