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Ministers will be told to use AI to screen migrants for threats, adviser says

Ministers will be recommended to use live AI facial recognition to screen migrants arriving in the UK for threats, the Government’s anti-terror law adviser has said.

Jonathan Hall KC, the UK’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has said he will recommend the Government introduces the technology at migrant processing facilities in Kent when he presents his annual report this year.

The move would allow border officers to screen those crossing in small boats against a database of terror suspects.

In an interview with LBC, Mr Hall also warned that Manston, the migrant processing centre where those on small boat are detained after arrival in the UK, had at one point become “so overwhelmed that people had to be released before all the checks had been done”.

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The reviewer told the broadcaster he visited Western Jet Foil in Dover last year, the initial processing site for migrants, as well as the Manston camp.

“At the time I was there, it was lots of sort of tents and more permanent structures,” he said.

“The tricky thing with that is that a lot of people can suddenly arrive on one day, and if lots arrive on one day, how are counterterrorism police going to have the opportunity to screen them? And this is the really difficult bit.

“They can’t be kept, quite rightly, in inhumane conditions, which means that if you’re jamming everyone into a tent, they can stay only there for a day.”

But with migrants being moved out, this meant there was not the opportunity to screen them, Mr Hall said.

He added: “It’s going to be published in a few weeks, but in my report, I’m going to say that, use live facial recognition at Western Jet Foil, so when people get off the boat, they can be screened, and if they’ve got a watch list of people coming in, they will know there and then that they’re dealing with someone who is on a watch list.”

Mr Hall said this would allow migrants to be checked against a “database of images of people who are suspicious, who are potential terrorists”.

The situation off the Dover coast was “really complex” and evolving, he said, with border staff unable to anticipate the surges of people crossing the Channel.

“At one stage, they were so overwhelmed that people had to be released before all the checks had been done,” he said.

This meant they were released “without the full amount of checks”, Mr Hall told LBC, adding border officers had to strike a balance between screening and ensuring arrivals were not kept in “potentially inhumane conditions”.

More than 6,200 people have crossed the English Channel since the start of the year, higher than in the same period in both 2023 and 2022.

Rishi Sunak has made “stopping the boats” one of his key leadership pledges as Prime Minister.

The Government hopes to deter people from making the journey with its plan to deport some arrivals to Rwanda but the Bill underpinning this is currently stuck in parliamentary deadlock between the House of Commons and House of Lords.