Eurostar and the “Lille Loophole”

  1. The Eurostar travells from Brussels-Midi to London St Pancras via the French station Lille Europe.
  2. The Eurostar has an unusual border-control arrangement, whereby passport control is done while boarding the train.
  3. France and Belgium are both in the Schengen Area, which means that people can pass freely between them. The UK is not.

The practical upshot of all this is that UK border control agents in Brussels check the passports of only some of the people getting on the train. Those who have tickets only as far as Lille are not checked by UK border control. It is then fairly easy for them to use standard fare-dodging tactics, stay on the train beyond the station where they should have alighted, and get through to Britain without going through any border control.

The simple and obvious solution would be to change Point 2 above, and do the border control in London, at least for the Brussels trains (this problem doesn’t apply to the Paris trains: they also pass through Lille Europe, and many of them stop there, but for pick-up only, not set-down).

That’s the simple and obvious solution. The solution the UK Border Agency actually tried was to attempt to profile “Lille loopholers” and interview them. The Belgian police soon put a stop to that: The UKBA has no legal authority to interview people travelling between Belgium and France. In at least one case, Belgian police actually threatened to arrest UKBA staff.


USA PATRIOT: Privacy and Politics in the EU

The EU Data Protection Directive protects your privacy by limiting what companies can do with the data they store about you. The USA PATRIOT Act (legislation which is theoretically to be used to prevent terrorism) mandates that companies violate users’ privacy whenever the US government asks them to. What if the company in question is an EU subsidiary of a US company? Or an EU company which stores its data on servers in the USA? Or even an EU company which stores its data on servers in the EU which are owned or operated by a company based in the USA? Many US companies, notably Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, store a lot of data about their users. And one of the biggest providers of “cloud computing” is Amazon, which is also a US company (though one of its data centres is in Ireland).

Zach Whittaker at ZDNet has an excellent series on the privacy concerns raised by the USA PATRIOT Act in Canada and the EU.

Meanwhile, many websites now allow you to “like” them on Facebook. To achieve this, a small amount of code from Facebook is embedded into the website. This means that when you visit that site, your browser also fetches information from Facebook. So Facebook knows that you have visited that site. If you happen to be signed into Facebook at the time, Facebook will know that you, personally, have visited that site. This is a problem, especially if the site in question is based in the EU: they have arguably violated your privacy. On Stack Overflow, a programmer asks for workarounds for this problem.


Copyright Law in Ireland

Copyright matters. It matters for Free Software. It matters for search engines. It matters for personal use (some companies use copyright law to make it difficult for you to use stuff you actually own, such as moving an eBook from one reader to another, or making a personal backup of DVDs you’ve purchased). Ireland is currently having a consultation on copyright law. Make your voice heard.


British Muslims Are More Bigotted than French or German Muslims

According to a Gallup poll, “British Muslims hold more conservative opinions towards homosexual acts, abortion, viewing pornography, suicide and sex outside marriage than European Muslims“.

(Incidentally, don’t you just love how, even in The Guardian, the British are not European?)


Religious Exemptions from the Law

One of my own principles is that groups should not be exempted from any legislation, or given any other special privileges, merely because they have, or claim to have, an invisible friend. Johann Hari’s article about exemptions from animal welfare legislation for halal and kosher butchers struck a chord.

One of the great markers of the advance of human kindness is the howls you will hear from the Men of God.