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U.K. earmarks funds for antiterrorist system

E-Borders passenger-screening system will be fully implemented over the next decade at a cost of about $2.4 billion.

The U.K. government plans to spend $2.4 billion on its e-Borders program over the next decade, as the electronic passenger-screening system is fully implemented.

The e-Borders program requires ferry companies and airlines to submit detailed information about passengers prior to departure to or from the U.K. Names that arouse suspicion can then be investigated by the Border and Immigration Agency, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, the police and U.K. visa officials before travelers have embarked on their journey.

The program is more than two-thirds of the way through its 39-month trial period, which kicked off in December 2004. Despite still being in its test phase, e-Borders has so far screened 29 million passengers and issued 13,000 alerts which have resulted in more than 1,000 arrests, according to the Home Office, the U.K.'s primary antiterrorism department.

"All our tests show (e-Borders) works and there are more than 1,000 arrests to prove it. Now we need to go further, with full-scale screening of travelers," immigration minister Liam Byrne said in a statement.

He added that e-Borders creates "a new, offshore line of defense, helping genuine travelers but stopping those who pose a risk before they travel."

Speaking to the House of Commons on July 25, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said electronic screening of travelers is an essential counterterrorism measure and that the first line of defense against terrorism is overseas, where people begin journeys to the U.K.

Brown said there is therefore an urgent need to scrap "old and ineffective" paper-based systems and replace them with electronic systems that allow for "real-time monitoring" and immediate, coordinated action.

"The way forward," Brown told Parliament, "is electronic screening of all passengers as they check in and out of our country at ports and airports--so that terrorist suspects can be identified and stopped before they board planes, trains and boats to the United Kingdom."

Natasha Lomas of reported from London.