Apple NFC Is Center Of Debate For UK Brexit Digital ID Proposal

Apple NFC Debated for Brexit Digital ID Proposal

Smartphones and NFC could help European citizens gain residency in the post-Brexit U.K. But there seems to be a hurdle, and it has to do with Apple — a story that shows how the pending political and economic move is having an impact on the technology that helps power payments and commerce.

According to a Thursday (Nov. 1) report from, the “U.K. government is set to launch an app that will help EU citizens apply for residency in the U.K. post-Brexit. The process involves filling out a short form, taking a selfie and scanning the chip inside their passport using their phone’s NFC reader.”

The proposed move fits into the general global trend of tying together mobile devices, digital ID and some form of biometrics to authenticate consumers for governmental purposes — projects that can also involve operators from the worlds of payments and commerce. China stands as a notable example of such efforts, as that country earlier this year announced a test involving Alibaba, which seeks to combine the country’s mandatory ID program with mobile payment functions.

But the U.K. effort faces what could be a significant challenge. “The problem is Apple does not give developers full access to the NFC chip inside iPhones,” according to that report on Friday. “NFC reading APIs only support the NDEF data format. The government’s plan is simply not possible with iOS as it stands today.”

The U.K.’s home secretary reportedly had made the pilgrimage to Apple headquarters in California to discuss the matter, but there was no indication Thursday that a resolution is in sight. As the report noted, “Apple carefully controls how the NFC chips embedded in its devices can be used. NFC debuted in the iPhone 6 to enable Apple Pay contactless transactions. For a couple years, that was all the NFC chip could do.”

The U.K. apparently is not alone in this. The Netherlands also reportedly wants Apple to change its policy on this matter, so that it can “offer apps for its citizens with integrated passport scanning.”

What if Apple does not change its policy?

Then, according to the report, “EU citizens will have to borrow an Android phone to complete their application or take the old-tech route and send off their physical passport in the mail.”

Beyond this specific issue, Brexit — like so many political and economic changes throughout history — promises to have meaningful impact on technology used by companies and consumers.

Take blockchain, one of those rising technologies that is promoted as almost a cure-call for every business and use case that comes along. In late October, a study from Nexus found that across 200 businesses surveyed, more than half of large and mid-sized companies queried are looking to adopt blockchain in an effort to mitigate operational risks in the wake of Brexit.

In an interview with PYMNTS, conducted via written exchange, Alex El-Nemer, executive director at Nexus, said of his firm’s study that “what was most interesting about our polling was that all companies had similar plans for increasing implementation, for the same reasons, regardless of size, sector and scale. This is perhaps reflective of the wider interest in adopting blockchain, but also a sign that companies recognize their potential to drive savings.”

Meanwhile, the concept of identification is rapidly changing with digital advances, given data breaches and consumers’ increasing concern about online security. Brexit seems likely to play a role in that, no matter what happens with Apple.