Brexit: UK government’s battle with Apple over EU citizens app

“The UK government is preparing to launch a smartphone app to make it as easy as possible for EU citizens to apply to remain in the UK after Brexit – the only problem is it doesn’t fully work on Apple devices,” Brian Wheeler reports for BBC News. “And hopes that the problem would have been fixed by now have just been dashed.”

“The app is a key part of the government’s drive to get the estimated 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK to apply for ‘settled status,'” Wheeler reports. “App users answer three ‘simple’ questions, take a ‘selfie’ to be checked against Home Office records and then – if they have an Android phone – scan the chip on their passport to verify their identity. The Home Office says a decision will be made on whether they can stay in the UK within two weeks. As things stand, people with Apple devices will not be able to scan their passports and will either have to borrow an Android phone to complete their application or post their passport to the UK Visa and Immigration Service instead, meaning the process is likely to take longer.”

UK officials “were hoping Apple would release an update to its operating system to allow users of the firm’s devices to scan their passports,” Wheeler reports. “The US tech giant has so far declined to do so, despite representations from UK government ministers, including a trip to the firm’s Silicon Valley HQ by Home Secretary Sajid Javid… It is not a technical problem. Apple devices have been fitted with Near Field Communication chips, as they are known, since 2014. But the company has mostly limited use of the chip to Apple Pay transactions, for security and commercial reasons.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Kudos to Apple for continuing to protect iOS user’s security.

As we wrote in November 2016 regarding Australian banks demanding access to NFC chips in Apple devices:

No, you cannot have access to iPhone’s NFC chip. Protecting iOS users’ security is of paramount importance.

Apple wins victory, sending warning to banks with Australian mobile payments – March 31, 2017
Australian Banks tell Apple: It’s not about your Apple Pay Fees, it’s about access to NFC – February 13, 2017
Apple Pay boss says Aussie customers willing to dump banks who fail to support Apple Pay – February 10, 2017
Apple steps up battle with Australian banks over Apple Pay boycott motive – February 6, 2017
ACCC proposes to deny authorisation for banks to collectively bargain with and boycott Apple on Apple Pay – November 29, 2016
Australian banks dismiss Android NFC past in Apple Pay negotiations – November 14, 2016
Australian banks accuse Apple of anti-competitive behavior, want access to iPhone’s NFC chip to take on Apple Pay – July 28, 2016
ANZ welcomes Apple Pay in Australia with a funny new TV ad – May 5, 2016
Apple expands Apple Pay in Australia with ANZ bank deal – April 28, 2016
Aussie consumers lose as banks effectively boycott Apple Pay – November 27, 2015
Australian banks accuse Apple of anti-competitive behavior, want access to iPhone’s NFC chip to take on Apple Pay – July 28, 2016


  1. And why can’t the applicant just take a photo of their passport instead? The passport number will give them all the info they need. Also why leave it till so close to Brexit, the app should have been ready ages ago. Lazy writing if you ask me.

    1. Perhaps in this age of applications like Photoshop, providing a pic of your passport is not considered sufficiently valid vs. a scan of the chip embedded in the passport.

      1. Wow. It took five hours on a tech site for somebody to point out that a photocopied passport is about as useful as a photocopied chip-and-PIN bank card. Not only does the chip identify the document as an actual original government-issued passport, but it also contains biometric data to identify the user as who he purports to be.

        They might have left it this late because they were hoping for a resolution of the outstanding issues between the EU and UK before now. Doing all the work to register millions of people as having “settled status” might not have been necessary if a deal had been agreed that provided otherwise.

        As of now, there is no agreement at all. Among other things, that will reimpose a hard customs and immigration frontier right across Ireland, isolating the North from the rest of the island.

  2. I suspect that submitting to the gov.’s plan would expose the iPhone users’ contact, as well as potentially the contact’s contacts, to a voracious gov.

    1. Today, the user overrides the default security.

      Tomorrow, some hacker overrides the security.

      That was the crux of Apple’s argument as to why they would not break iOS passcode security for the FBI in the terrorist case.

  3. All things being equal, this is one of those situations where the NFC chip on the iPhone would have major benefits. Yes, I understand that there needs to be privacy, but there must also be a way to allow legit uses of this chip by third parties that doesn’t break privacy.

    As things stand, there are more and more situations where you can’t use your iOS device for a compelling use because of the NFC lockdown. Think about transit cards, NFC access systems, etc.

    My suspicion is that Apple won’t open up the NFC chip until they can be sure that they won’t miss out on profits from Apple Pay. If that’s the case, it’s just greed at the expense of delighting the customer.

    1. Maybe I’m not understanding this properly but for Apple Pay doesn’t the POS reader ‘receive’ data from the iPhone? As far as I can tell what the UK gov is asking for is a way for the iPhone to ‘read’ data from an RFID chip embedded in the passport and pass it to their App. Can’t an API to solely provide input read by the iPhones’ NFC chip be easily provided w/o affecting the secure enclave let alone any other ‘secure’ part of iOS?

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