The British government has stepped up its commitment to its controversial e-Borders program, pledging £1.2 billion partly on the strength of the success of pilot projects, which it claims have resulted in over 1,000 arrests.

The program will use biometric-capture technologies to collect biometric data on the majority of passengers in and out of the country by 2009, the Home Office said.

Iris recognition is the key new biometric system being used by the government to track passenger movements. A pilot of the technology at Heathrow Airport, known as the miSense project, saw more than 60,000 passengers processed by the Iris Recognition Immigration System - or IRIS. They had their iris pattern and passport details stored in a database to enable them to pass through border controls electronically without a face-to-face encounter with an official.

The immigration part of the same pilot collected even more biometric data: alongside retinal-scanning, 10 fingerprints and a facial scan were collected from about 1,000 passengers.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne said, “All our tests show [border control] works and there are over 1,000 arrests to prove it. Now we need to go further with full-scale screening of travellers.”

He said that by “locking passengers to their identity we will create a new offshore line of defence.”

The e-Borders program also aims to bring together key agencies and allow them to check advanced passenger data against watch lists. It is planned that this will be done on a real-time basis between the Border and Immigration Agency, Customs, Police and UK Visas.

The plans are closely tied to prime minister Gordon Brown's national security strategy outlined last week. Under those plans, all visa applicants will require biometric visas within nine months.