Whether it is the Irish backstop or English Channel, the issue of how the UK and Europe are controlling their borders has been thrust into the public consciousness.
And as with many of the globe’s conundrums, countries and private companies are turning to ever more futuristic, and often controversial, technologies in order to protect their borders.
There are, of course, immediate issues for Britain’s borders with quandaries such as the potential hard border in Northern Ireland following Brexit, with the nebulous ‘technology’ promised by some politicians either still being developed or put under question.
One such future proposal is a satellite system that registered mobile phones as they pass the border, while sensors buried in the ground or radars on flying drones could detect possible unlawful breaches of the boundaries. But that would still leave the question of invasive, even if largely invisible, checks that run against the Good Friday Agreement.
“Just think how the residents of Dover or Holyhead would respond to the idea of being constantly surveilled by drones or mobile phone tracing,” Katy Hayward, reader in at Queen’s University Belfast and an expert on border studies, wrote in The Conversation.
“Those in the Irish border region have recent experience of close surveillance and border controls. Twenty years on from the Good Friday Agreement, the negative consequences of militarised security at the Irish border remain evident: economically, socially and politically.”
But a push for more advanced border control techniques continue apace. In January it was revealed that the UK will pay the French £6m for drones, CCTV cameras and night-vision equipment to mount 24/7 surveillance of the North France coast in a new bid to prevent migrants crossing the Channel.
And just last month, it was revealed that the European Union are funding a £7.7m project called Roborder, a swarm of autonomous, unmanned ground vehicles, submersibles and flying drones.
The project is made up of a consortium of police agencies, national institutes and private companies, including the Hampshire-based technology and aerospace firm Tekever and Spanish robotic designer Robotnik. The various drones are equipped with an array of sophisticated sensors, such as radar, emission sensors and thermal imaging, and will be able to patrol land, sea and air.
The vehicles can work standalone or as part of a networked swarm, scanning for potential illegal activity –such as unauthorised border crossing, smuggling or even pollutant spills– and beam back its findings to a manned control hub. The station operators will then use the information from the drones to decide whether to dispatch a team to make an arrest. The drones are not able or authorised to intercept suspects themselves.
However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t the possibility of drones being armed in the future if there is pressure applied for more draconian patrols in this most volatile of topics.