Putting technology at the heart of our post-Brexit immigration system

September 19, 2017 - 

This is a guest post by Nora Blomefield, Head of Marketing for Border Management at Gemalto.

As the ongoing saga of Brexit negotiations continue, attention is turning to what the UK’s borders might look like as part of a new arrangement. With traveller numbers only likely to increase over the next few years what is clear is that the process is only going to become more complicated. In fact, Brexit could cause travel chaos. In a matter of years, Brits might need visas to travel to the continent and there may even be a border between the Republic of Ireland and the UK. Immigration officials will have to deal with the administrative and logistical burden of implementing the new rules (whatever those may be) which could cause lengthy and frustrating queues at border control. Will there be a separate “British-only” queue at Heathrow airport for returning citizens? Will EU passengers require more attention? We’ve become so used to travel between the UK and EU being convenient, painless and quick, but should EU nationals become subject to stricter checks upon entering the UK this could cause havoc at UK airports. To deal with these structural changes, the government must embrace cutting-edge technology like biometrics and ePassports, which could help to automate some immigration tasks. Otherwise, the system could find itself being overwhelmed.

From passport to ePassport

What we consider to be the traditional paper passport may have been eliminated in the UK, as we move to ePassports with embedded chips, but the reality is a lot of countries still have passports that are literally still a piece of paper. There’s no requirement to have an ePassport to enter the UK, meaning individuals from other countries are able to enter the country without additional checks, and are able to edit documents fraudulently.

To ensure travel between the UK and the EU is both secure and convenient, it’s vital the government embraces the latest technological solutions available. While the UK is already making progress in this area, having equipped Heathrow with hundreds of eGates, there’s still a lot of work to be done, and we can take our passports even further, adding facial recognition and fingerprint data to all chips within ePassports. While in the future we may become fully paperless, paper documents are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Adding further biometrics

Biometric technologies, like fingerprints and face recognition, may need to see greater adoption in any post-Brexit immigration system, since they are all far more secure methods of verification than standard physical documents. By adding potentially several different biometric credentials to an embedded chip within a passport, it becomes exponentially harder to forge. Add to this the fact that a picture in a passport can become worn with time and it’s not hard to see why it’s important to have a digitized, high quality image.

From a security perspective, ePassports and biometrics bring lots of advantages to authorities, enabling them to better prevent identity fraud and detect potential criminals. ePassports are protected by multi-layered security software, which encrypts credentials and protects them from theft or tampering. Furthermore, biometric authentication can be linked up to large databases of blacklisted individuals posing a security threat, terrorists and criminals, immediately alerting a border official to be able to stop potentially dangerous people entering the country. Ordinary paper passports can be forged or edited, or can be used by the wrong owner. Implementing biometric technology eliminates all of these threats and would stop those carrying forged or edited documents making it across the border.

Digital visas

Some other countries are further ahead of the UK in deploying the latest technologies. In Turkey, Australia and New Zealand, visa documentation is already dematerialised. The UK needs to keep up to ensure the smooth functioning of its post-Brexit immigration system. Should we need visas to travel to the continent in the near future, it’s imperative we have a system in place which doesn’t become even more burdensome to travellers already weary of queues at border control.

Of course, biometric and ePassport solutions need to be implemented in the right way. A new immigration system must strike a balance between boosting border security and respecting citizens’ privacy and rights. The government must ensure customer data is treated carefully and that any cloud systems are properly protected, given concerns around data leaks which are so regularly in the news.

Beyond physical passports

So, what could the future hold for border control? It may sound futuristic, but we’re coming closer to digitising the entire airport experience. Imagine entering the airport and having already submitted your travel documents in advance of arrival, a kiosk at check in scans your face. This makes it possible for a traveller to then simply walk through an airport (or any other border security check), from check in, to security, to boarding, without needing to show a document. No more needing to withdraw documents from bags or pockets or worry about losing a ticket, and no hassle at borders like the ones at the Eurostar platform or in Northern Ireland.

Post Brexit, no one in the UK or Europe wants the hassle of a traditional border crossing experience, with inconvenient passport controls. Brexit could have a negative impact if we don’t take the right steps to create a frictionless experience for travellers, but this has to be done in a way that doesn’t allow for security risks to pass through, nor can it compromise citizen privacy.

DISCLAIMER: BiometricUpdate.com blogs are submitted content. The views expressed in this blog are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BiometricUpdate.com.

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About Nora Blomefield

Nora Blomefield, Head of Marketing for Border Management, Gemalto.