Belfast Telegraph

Secret tech proposal for Irish border - Tweets could see drivers face checks

By Jonathan Bell

Government officials considered border technology which could have seen Facebook posts or Tweets leading to motorists crossing the Irish border after Brexit come under suspicion and possibly face inspections.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said it was like something from Big Brother in reference to the George Orwell book 1984 on state surveillance of its people.

"Technology can only be a means to an end but not a solution in itself," he said.

"Every mooted alternative to backstop brings up a host of new and even more far-reaching challenges.  A major increase in surveillance will raise issues around privacy and personal liberty."

The 11-page briefing document on one possible solution for managing Irish border crossing has been leaked to The Sun newspaper. However, the proposal was dismissed by the Government "as it does not work for the unique circumstances of the Northern Ireland border".

given consideration among Government officials but dismissed as there would have been a need for a hardening of the border with infrastructure.

The EU and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have previously stated there are no technological solutions currently available.

The leaked document - described as a 'Drive Through Border Concept' - proposed monitoring of vehicles using artificial intelligence-driven analysis from a wide array of information - including social media posts.

A tracking system would also monitor vehicles on "designated routes" using satellite technology as well as number plate recognition.

The plan also proposed:

  • Tariffs could be paid online by registered users,
  • Police would monitor every goods vehicle that crosses the border to clamp down on smuggling,
  • Inspection depots away from the border which suspicious drivers ordered to re-route to.

The system could have been trailed before the departure Brexit day on March 29 with 100 hauliers testing it.

The report states the Government's working group on finding alternative arrangements has also been briefed on a possible solution in Africa aimed a stopping bandits and hijackers operating on the borders of Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

MLA Stephen Farry added: "If this is for real, those behind it have no understanding of the complexities of the Irish border and the impact of this level of surveillance. And from a business point of view, it is hard to see how this copes with the need for regulatory checks in relation to agri-food sector

He added: "The only way to avoid a border is for either the whole of the UK or Northern Ireland alone to be in same customs zone and maintain sufficient level of regulation with the EU."

In an examination of the proposal the political sociologist academic Katy Hayward said number recognition cameras could be targets for attacks, as the PSNI has warned, and there would need to be a willingness from those crossing the border to be tracked.

She suggested analysing social media posts or other information could ride roughshod over privacy and data protection rules.

"After trouncing personal privacy and data protection rules... what happens? Inspection by robot?," she tweeted.

"Looking at tech at this stage is like buying a tent without any tent poles or pegs. What customs and regulatory framework is this tech to fit over and facilitate?

"Then, the more different it is to now (e.g. No Deal), the greater the stretch for tech and credibility."

Fujitsu refused to comment on the leak, although it has in the past admitted to examining possible solutions for the border.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Exiting the EU said the Government was exploring a number of possible options to solve the Irish border issue.

"We have been clear that we will not consider any proposals that include new border infrastructure in Northern Ireland. 

"This proposal was not taken forward as it does not work for the unique circumstances of the Northern Ireland border."

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