Statewatch News online: UK: Home Secretary launches ID card scheme

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UK: Home Secretary launches ID card scheme

(Update 21 November 2003)

The Home Office controversially ignored 5,031 (4,856 against and 44 in favour of ID cards) which were treated as a single "inspired sample". Privacy International have prepared a "Chronology of the ID Card Consultation"

13 November 2002. 1,500 "communications" regarding the card, split roughly 50/50 for and against the proposal (Home Office estimate given to Privacy International)

11 December 2002. 1,500 "responses" have been received, split 2-1 in the government's favour (government press release)

15 January 2003: 2,000 responses have been received, split 2-1 in the government's favour (David Blunkett's speech at a meeting held by the Information Commissioner).

24 February 2003. "more than 2,000 letters and e-mails from individuals and organisations" have been received split 2:1 in the government's favour (Junior Home Office Minister, in answer to a question from Andy Burnham MP.

7 April 2003. "Well in excess of 2,000 responses" have been received (Beverley Hughes, in an answer to a question from Simon Hughes MP).

28 April 2003. 2,000 consultation responses, split 2-1 in the government's favour. (Beverley Hughes, in Commons debate).

8 June 2003. David Blunkett tells BBC 1's "The Politics Show" that the consultation demonstrated an eighty per cent support amongst the public.

17 June 2003. 5,031 emails are received. 4,856 against and 44 in favour (Beverley Hughes in a written answer to Anne McIntosh MP).

19 June 2003. 4,000 "individual responses" have been received (Beverley Hughes, in response to a question put by Jimmy Wray MP).

15 July 2003. 5.031 responses received (Beverly Hughes, in answer to a question from John Barrret MP)

1 September 2003. 9,973 responses have been received, including 4,942 "individual" responses. However, 5,031 email responses within this figure are to be treated as a single "inspired sample" and are to be ignored (Beverley Hughes in response to a question from Denis Murphy MP)

The UK Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has announced that there is to be an ID card scheme - which will eventually be complusory (around 2013).

The only time there have been ID cards in the UK was during the Second World War, see:
1. Identity cards in the UK - a lesson from history: Report
2. Canadian parliamentary report ridicules ID cards as pointless, costly and dangerous - findings may devastate UK government plans for an ID card: Privacy International press release
3. Results of the UK government's consultation - which ignored 5,000 plus objections: Statewatch pdf version of "Identity Cards - The next steps" (112k) and Government version: "Identity Cards -The next steps" (link - large 1.8 MB pdf)
4. Guardian coverage (link) ID cards on the way (Guardian, link) Background (Guardian, link)
5. BBC coverage (link)
6. Guardian: ID cards may cut queues but learn lessons of history, warn Europeans (15.11.03)
7. Guardian: How the Home Office ignored 5,000 objections

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"After a well reported, and alleged, disagreement in the Cabinet over ID cards we get a government statement which is based on fear and racism. Identity cards are necessary to defeat terrorism and immigration. The first targets are to be the poor and unemployed, asylum-seekers and refugees, resident third country nationals, visitors with visas, and all school children. These are to be the first steps, together with the compulsory issuing of biometric passports and driving licences, and for the first time a national population database.

Unless this process is stopped the UK will see the introduction of the most high-tech ID cards in the EU over the next ten years culminating in compulsory ID cards for all."

Home Office Press Release


Reference: 307/2003 - Date: 11 Nov 2003 12:30

Government plans for a secure ID card scheme to prepare the UK meet the challenges of the 21st century were set out today by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, after public consultation showed strong support.

The card scheme, to be phased in over a number of years, would include basic personal information, a digital photo and a "biometric" which can include facial recognition, iris scans or fingerprints. For most UK citizens, the card will take the form of a biometric passport which will be upgraded when it comes up for renewal. At the same time, all EU and foreign nationals coming into the country for more than three months will have to pay for a biometric residence permit.

The Government expects that 80 per cent of the adult population would have an ID card by 2013 if passports and driving licences are issued on the proposed biometric basis.

The card would become compulsory thereafter for all residents after a decision by the Cabinet and a vote in Parliament.

The scheme would:

- boost the fight against illegal working - giving employers a recognisable secure way of ensuring people are entitled to work - and making it easier to prosecute those employers who break the law. From the commencement of the scheme all foreign nationals entering the UK for more than three months will have to pay for a biometric residence permit;

- tackle immigration abuse - the lack of a card in the UK compared to most other EU countries is a pull factor for those who think they can come here and disappear;

- disrupt the use of false and multiple identities by terrorists and organised crime groups such as money laundering which supports their terrorist or other criminal activities. Using multiple identities is one of the most common practices of those involved in terrorist activity;

- ensure free public services are only used by those entitled to them - preventing abuse such as ‘health tourism’;

- help protect people from identity theft - it can take the average victim 300 hours to put their records straight.

The UK is already working on upgrading passports which will include chips containing biometric data, to meet tough international security requirements. From October 2004, only holders of biometric visas will be able to enter the USA, and countries like the UK which currently participate in the 90-day visa waiver scheme will have to develop biometric passports.

The UK Passport Service will shortly begin a six-month biometric pilot to test face, iris and fingerprint capture and recognition. A national ID card scheme would take advantage of the infrastructure being put in place to support these developments, significantly reducing the costs of the card.

Public responses to the Government’s consultation last year showed that 62 per cent of people are in favour of ID cards. This rose to 80 per cent in a survey of a representative sample of the population. The consultation also showed that the public preferred the term "identity" rather than "entitlement" cards.

Mr Blunkett said:

"The combination of greater global mobility and advancing technology is making it increasingly difficult to protect and authenticate people’s identity. To deal with these 21st century challenges, the UK is to introduce secure passports using high-tech biometrics. We are looking similarly at more secure driving licences and intend to build on this technological infrastructure already being put in place, to develop a national ID card scheme.

"An ID card scheme will help tackle the crime and serious issues facing the UK, particularly illegal working, immigration abuse, ID fraud, terrorism and organised crime. The implementation of this scheme will begin as soon as the legislative framework and technology have been put in place to issue the card for the renewal of first passports and then driving licences.

"We know that the absence of an ID card in the UK - unlike most other countries in Europe - is a pull factor for those seeking to abuse our immigration system. However, an ID card would ensure legitimate foreign residents are properly identified, so that they can be welcomed and integrated into our society.

"An ID card scheme will clamp down on health tourism and help tackle benefit fraudsters as access to these services becomes possible only with the new secure card. Public services have been exploited for too long by those people not entitled to them.

"Criminals are increasingly sophisticated and we need to keep one step ahead by making the best use of new technology. A high-tech, secure ID card scheme is the logical next step to meeting these challenges, and to prepare Britain for the future.

"ID fraud is one of the fastest growing crimes. It can ruin lives and costs the country more than £1.3 billion every year. People protect their property and cars with the latest technology - we now need to protect our identities with the same security.

"The key to secure identities are high-tech personal biometric identifiers contained in a chip on the card which will link to a secure national database.

"What we know the public want, which is what we are now proposing, is a scheme that can provide them with a secure and convenient way of confirming their identity, to protect it from theft, tackle terrorism and organised crime and ensure free public services only go to those entitled to them."

The details of the card are yet to be finalised, but it is likely that: basic details will be on the face of the card such as name, age, validity dates, nationality, whether a person has a right to work, and an unique number; a secure encrypted chip will additionally contain a unique personal biometric identifier; cards will be linked to a national secure database which will contain the data from the card and be able to use the biometric data to confirm identity, preventing multiple card applications; biometrics will be incorporated into forthcoming passport cards - a plain card will be available for those people who have no passport; they will cost an estimated £3.50 per year per person. These costs arise largely from the development of secure biometric identifiers to which we are already committed to including on passports; we will be looking at a range of schemes to allow people to pay in instalments; and we will provide substantial concessions to those in low income groups, over 75s and be free the first time to 16-year-olds. Beyond the age of 75 it will be free for life.

The Government, through Parliament, would make ID cards compulsory when the technology is seen to be working, take-up reaches an appropriate level and public acceptability of the card enables the implementation of a universal scheme. It will not be compulsory to carry a card.

Primary legislation would be required for a national ID card scheme, which would set out clear rules and safeguards on the use of the ID card system and protections against invasion of privacy.

Notes to editors:

1. The UK Government published a consultation paper on Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud on 3 July 2002. The consultation period ended on 31 January 2003. The public consultation and polling results were published today and can be found at

2. As soon as the database is available identity cards would be issued to foreign nationals and EU residents seeking to remain in the country. An optional card would also be available for those who do not have, or wish to have, a passport or driving licence.

3. In May 2003, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) adopted a global, harmonised blueprint for biometric information in passports and other travel documents. The agreed ICAO standard is the inclusion of a mandatory facial image biometric in a contactless chip (i.e. the document is placed on a reader rather than being inserted), with the option of including a secondary biometric (e.g. fingerprint or iris image). The 188 ICAO contracting states are now looking at adopting this standard in their travel documents. Australia is likely to be the first to issue passports to the new ICAO standard, followed by New Zealand and the US.

4. The UKPS trial will enrol 10,000 volunteers over six months in several locations (including mobile units) to ensure a representative coverage of the population. A contract award will be announced in the next two weeks.

Published: 11 Nov 2003


"Impossible to implement and dangerous beyond measure to rights", 11th November 2003

The watchdog group Privacy International today released information relating to the government's proposed ID card. The statement establishes that the scheme, as outlined by the Home Secretary, will be "mathematically and technologically" impossible to achieve, that it is unnecessary and that the related security threats have been vastly understated.

* The government proposes a central index of biometric identifiers (eye or finger) to ensure that no two people in the UK are operating under multiple identities

This proposal is mathematically and technologically impossible. A report issued by the US General Accounting Office in November 2002 reported that the largest iris scanning system currently in use has only 30,000 records. The GAO warned that it was "unknown" how a system with many millions of records would perform.

A report from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology issued last year said that, so far, not enough records yet existed for it to work out if the iris was a good enough guarantor of identity. Fingerprinting is less reliable that iris scanning.

For David Blunkett's proposal to work in the majority of scans, a biometric would have to be accurate to a margin of 0.000002 per cent - well over a million times greater accuracy than is currently commercially available.

Nationwide has already ditched its iris scanning project, describing it as a failure

* In his introduction speech, Mr Blunkett said: "An ID card is not a luxury or a whim - it is a necessity,"

An ID card is not a necessity. Only Malaysia and Singapore have introduced the sort of ID card outlined by Mr Blunkett. Even China earlier this year withdrew the fingerprint requirement for its ID card . All other countries have much more simple systems in place. No common law country has an ID card - all have rejected them. An interim report by the Canadian Parliament's Citizenship & Immigration Committee concludes that such a scheme is unworkable and unnecessary

* Mr Blunkett said: "Only basic information will be held on the ID card database - such as your name, address, birthday and sex. It will not have details of religion, political beliefs, marital status or your health records."

The ID card database is only one component of the ID card proposal. The ID card will be a "system of systems" linking dozens - perhaps hundreds - of databases containing sensitive information. This system in future years will give government an opportunity to comprehensively dip into citizen's bank accounts to recover money from any agency.

* Mr Blunkett says arrangements have been made with other EU countries to establish recognition of their identity cards.

The Home Secretary is saying that the UK will rely on the security and authenticity of ID systems in Italy or Greece, where a "non-biometric" ID is issued for life at age 14. This makes a mockery of any claim that the UK proposal will be accurate and secure.

Simon Davies of Privacy International can be reached for comment on 07958 466 552 (from the UK) or on (+44) 7958 466 552 (from outside the UK). Email

Privacy International (PI) is a human rights group formed in 1990 as a watchdog on surveillance by governments and corporations. PI is based in London, and has an office in Washington, D.C. Together with members in 40 countries, PI has conducted campaigns throughout the world on issues ranging from wiretapping and national security activities, to ID cards, video surveillance, data matching, police information systems, and medical privacy, and works with a wide range of parliamentary and inter-governmental organisations such as the European Parliament, the House of Lords and UNESCO.

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