The UK government wants Apple to open up developer access to the NFC chips inside iPhones. The reason is because it plans to launch a new app designed to help EU citizens apply for residency in the U.K. after it leaves the European Union.
However, as part of the app, the government wants to let users scan the chip inside their passports with their smartphone’s NFC reader. Unfortunately, while this is possible to do on Android, Apple does not allow developer access in this way. And the British government wants that to change.
The app is reportedly a “key part” of the government’s drive to allow 3.5 million EU citizens to apply for “settled status” in the UK. It would ask them several questions, let them take a selfie to be checked against records, and then scan the chip in their passport. However, with 50 percent of the market using iPhones, this last part just isn’t possible.
According to the BBC:
“The U.S. 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. There was speculation on tech blogs that Apple would unlock the chip reader to third party apps when it rolled out its latest operating system, 12.1, a process currently under way. But Apple has confirmed to the BBC that those rumours were not true and it has not been unlocked.”
The Home Office is supposedly, “continuing to engage with Apple at the highest level.” The Dutch government also wants Apple to unlock its chip reader to let citizens access digital services.
This isn’t the first time that Apple has butted heads with governments when its internal policies have conflicted with national policies. The most famous example is the privacy-oriented standoff between Apple and the FBI. More recently, in India Apple has clashed over a government app the company thought violated its privacy policies.
Will this result in Apple opening up its NFC chip to developers? We’ll have to wait and see. It’s certainly an interesting situation for Apple to deal with, however. As its technology becomes more and more ubiquitous, a growing number of government bodies and nations will feel they’ve got the right to demand how Apple develops its software.