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Irish security experts dismiss ‘invisible’ digital border

21/08/17

Co-founder of Centre for Irish and European Security claims UK proposal for smart tech customs checks will not resolve post-Brexit border problems

The UK Government’s plans for an “invisible” digital border in Ireland after Brexit have been dismissed as nonsense by security research specialists.

It is wrong to believe that technology alone can resolve the headache of policing the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, according to a co-founder of the Centre for Irish and European Security (CIES).

Sadhbh McCarthy said: “Neither I nor my colleagues are aware of any instance in which a solution such as that envisaged by politicians for Brexit has been established anywhere in the world.

“The idea that you can use technology in some way to minimise what is essentially a political problem is ludicrous. There are plenty of snake oil salespeople out there who might tell you otherwise, but the fact remains.”

UK border signIn a position paper, issued ahead of the resumption of the Brexit negotiations, the UK Government ruled out introducing checkpoints or installing CCTV cameras along the 310-mile frontier. In a bid to ease tensions with the Irish Government, Theresa May’s administration declared its priority was to avoid a return to the “border posts of the past”.

Dublin fears such a move would endanger the peace process in the North, by reviving memories of the Troubles, when border crossings regularly became flashpoints for violence.

However, the EU has warned new controls will be necessary if Britain sticks to its stance of pulling out of the customs union and single market, to avoid lower taxed or lower standard goods flooding in.

The solution, according to the UK Government, is “highly streamlined” customs checks, having no impact on 80% of cross-border trade and relying on smart technology.

Border will exist

Speaking to the Irish Times, McCarthy, also a former managing director at the European Biometrics Forum, added: “It doesn’t matter what you do electronically to minimise the visuals, a border will still exist.

“You can reduce the number of people who are seen doing things, but you will always need to have them nearby to respond when a problem is identified.”

She won support from Dr Mark Maguire, an expert on security and border issues at Maynooth University in the Republic. “There’s no magic bullet,” he said. “It just doesn’t exist.”

He said technology could create a smart border, but not prevent crossings between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Furthermore, the technology would be “primarily used for surveillance”, he warned, adding: “People living and working near the border would likely not enjoy having drones etc flying above their heads every day.”

The frontier has up to 200 crossing points with an estimated 177,000 lorries, 208,000 vans and 1.85 million cars passing through every month. Around 30,000 people cross the border daily.

Image by Fox Wu, CC BY 2.0 through flickr

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