Many crossing the border from the south into the north of Ireland may soon be required to submit biometric facial and fingerprint data to the British government.
The requirement applies to anyone who does not have an Irish passport or a British visa, including EU citizens.
The requirement is part of the ‘Electronic Travel Authorisation’ scheme, itself part of the controversial ‘Nationality and Borders Act’, due to come into force next year.
Initially, Britain will require ‘facial data’ from those crossing the border. However, all visitors and migrants to British jurisdiction may ultimately be required to provide both their face and fingerprint biometrics as part of the new system.
The move has been widely condemned as unworkable and contrary to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. There are concerns about how Britain intends to process the data collected.
The scheme is opposed by the Dublin government, other political parties and human rights organisations, and has already been the subject of protests in border areas.
Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party said the scheme was part of the London government’s “reckless, anti-immigration agenda” in the wake of Brexit and it must “urgently recognise the island of Ireland’s unique position and legislate for an exemption for residents and tourists”.
He listed a wide range of concerns, including the “needless bureaucracy” for people in Border areas and the impact on tourists. There are also question marks over the consequences for people who cannot access the technology required.
Úna Boyd from the Committee on the Administration of Justice said they had long raised concerns that the scheme would “harden the border for many non-Irish citizens living in border counties”.
“Having to provide your fingerprints and photograph to the UK authorities before going from Donegal to Derry makes this even more concerning,” she said.
She also warned the scheme would represent “data collection on a really significant scale” and said there must be clarity on how it would be stored, shared and used.
British military checkpoints were gradually removed in the years following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement but replaced with other forms of surveillance.
More than 30,000 people cross the border each day for work. ‘Big data’ surveillance technology is now set to track those who complete the online applications after they cross the border.
Aynaz Zarif, a charity worker at Derry-based North West Migrants Forum said the idea of not being able to cross an open border feels ridiculous.
“We were cycling around Derry, and after not a long time we reached a point where my husband was saying that — Okay, there is a border here. I know you can’t see it, but we need to turn back,” Ms Zarif sais.
Locals told her to ignore it — “no one will stop you” they said, but she was fearful of breaking the law.
Visa issues also affecting people who are married to non-EU citizens. A report by the Detail website has found that hundreds of northerners have given up their British citizenship as a means of resolving immigration issues for their spouses, including hardline unionists.
Ironically, those who hold dual British and Irish nationality are being forced to renounce their British citizenship in order to boost their rights under British law.
A unionist from Larne said he spent nearly £10,000 on various British schemes before the “absolutely straightforward” move to give up his British citizenship. However, he now feared the response of local Loyalists.
“I live in a predominantly Protestant/unionist area and I was a bit worried. I never ever told anybody, never even told my family,” he said.
“I was a bit wary about telling them, in case of... not retribution but sort of (being) ostracised if I had.
“It was probably the paramilitary ones that would be running around the street that you’d be more worried about. The bitter ones, who might look on you as some kind of traitor.”