Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Monday, 7 November 2011

The security of UK borders and "others"

The UK border at Heathrow airport (c) dannyman
Republished in full from The Pryer

I can hear loud bangs outside … not sure what is going on … could it be guns … bombs …? Yes, the UK border force decided not to check the biometric passport details of hundreds of thousands of foreigners entering the UK … they could be criminals … or terrorists.
As we celebrate a night of fireworks in honour of an UK-born terrorist, and I climb off my sarcastically high horse, I find it apposite that the Daily Mail is referring to foreigners (“others”) in similar terms. If what they say about UK borders being relaxed is true, there are a couple of questions that need answering:
  1. For which non-EU countries’ citizens were these checks relaxed?
  2. Do citizens from these countries require visas to enter the UK?
Having practised immigration work myself, I know a little of the system and the back-office “administration” that takes place.  The questions that I raise have important implications for the moral panic now engulfing British consciousness, and the supposed safety of British citizens.
If the answer to these questions is that biometrics checks were relaxed for countries that require visas, then this should not a big security issue. Firstly, the majority of these countries do not have biometric passports. In fact, the majority of nations do not have biometric issuing facilities yet (please see the graphic below, where dark green represents those countries where biometric passports are available to the public, and light green those who have announced that biometric passports will be made available). In the countries that do have a biometrics system, most have only been in operation in the last few years; many citizens will still be using their non-biometric passports.

Availability of biometric passports (c) Igor Alexandrov
Secondly, we issue visas to citizens from many non-EU countries. This means that the basic “security” checks are performed outside of the UK. After this, application forms are checked, people occasionally interviewed, and if successful, visas are issued. In fact, anyone entering the UK with a visa has faced far more risk assessment than citizens from countries, such as those in the EU, that do not require visas. Why, then, waste the time of an immigration officer, when the work has already been performed overseas by an entry clearance officer?
From what I can read into the situation, this is a political and ideological power struggle. Like other government departments, UKBA will be cutting a third of its staff by 2014. Whilst biometric passports appear to be the panacea that deters “foreign” threats, all they contain is the basic biographical details, and a photograph, of the person holding said passport. Moreover, the chips within these passports can be cloned and altered.
The technological security measures that states use are forever being tested and challenged. Although we think that we are safer, based on our understanding of technology and in this case, biology, this is a misconception. Surveillance mechanisms are designed by man, and rely on enculturated ideas along ethnic, gender and other divisions. In terms of passports, biometric chips are not objective. People have implanted these differences into the data that the chip collects. Therefore, we are sanctioning racialised, and group, differences in the name of security.
From being Jewish at the turn of the 20th century, to being Irish in the 1970s, to being Muslim in the 21st century, we have used immigration as a means of identifying so-called problem groups. Without the full details behind it, this story is nothing more than a ruse to sell “news”, and more dangerously, replants the seeds of fear and loathing of “others” during troubled times.

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