Taking an early firm stand on terrorism, Prime Minister Gordon Brown told Parliament on Wednesday that his government would establish a highly visible border police force that would patrol airports and seaports, a proposal the opposition Conservatives have long supported.
In a wide-ranging package of antiterrorism measures that stressed security over winning the hearts of Britain's Muslim population, Brown said he wanted to extend the period that terrorism suspects can be held for questioning without charge.
In the longer run, he said, Britain would require all visa applicants to have "biometric" screening after March 2008.
A screening system, to be introduced as soon as possible, he said, would enable border officials to check passports of people entering and leaving Britain in real time against a database.
"Our country - and all countries - have to confront a generation-long challenge to defeat al-Qaida-inspired terror violence," Brown said in the House of Commons. He said there had been 15 efforts to attack Britain since Sept. 11, 2001. Some of the government's proposals, in particular the extension of time for questioning of suspects held without charge from 28 days to 56 days, had been discussed as possibilities before the Wednesday speech.
But the plan for the border patrol police, which would combine immigration and customs officers, came as a surprise. It appeared designed to show that Brown meant business in reinforcing Britain's security measures and that he, a member of the Labor Party, was willing to include something from Conservative Party policy.
The complexities of terrorist plots, which often involve multiple identities and the need for investigators to look at thousands of phone records and analyze computer hard drives, justified an extension to 56 days, Brown said. The plot last year to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners heading for the United States involved 200 cell phones, 400 computers and 8,000 CDs, DVDs and discs, which together contained 6,000 gigabytes of data, Brown told Parliament.