Compulsory ID cards planned

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The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has announced that a Bill to introduce ID cards will be published in the next few weeks - which will include powers to make them compulsory without further legislation. Last week the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said there was no longer a civil liberties objection to the introduction of ID cards (see: Prime Minister says there is "no longer a civil liberties objection" to ID cards: Report and background) The only time in British history that there have been ID cards was during the Second World War - they were finally withdrawn in 1952, see: Statewatch: The history of ID cards in the UK

There has allegedly been some disagreement in the Cabinet but only over the issue of making ID cards compulsory. Cabinet Ministers like Patricia Hewitt, Department of Trade and Industry, has reservations about compulsory cards but supports the introduction of biometric passports and biometric driving licences which would, in time, cover 80% of the population.

Lots of different dates have been bandied about in the press but it appears to be the government intention to get the Bill through parliament in 2005 and introduce the scheme in 2007 - people renewing their passports and driving licences will be issued with combined cards with biometric data (probably fingerprints and facial scans).

At the moment passports have to be renewed every ten years - though there are plans in the pipeline in the UK and EU - to reduce this to five years so as to incorporate regular updates to the biometrics and other personal data on the card. Every year in the UK five million passports are issued (including replacements for lost or stolen passports). If a rolling programme is introduced it will probably take at least 10 years for every passport to be replaced.

The replacement of driving licences is even more problematic. In the UK licenses are issued from the time of passing the driving test (usually between the ages of 17-25) up until the age of 70. There are EU plans for the "harmonised" renewal of licences every 10 years but the draft legislation was rejected by the European Parliament last week and a new proposal is unlikely before 2005. The only people at the moment for whom the scheme could be introduced are for young people passing the test for the first time, for stolen or lost licences, and for that most dangerous category of all - the over 70's. The great majority of driving licence-holders will have no need for a new one for decades.

It is therefore likely that it will be passport renewals that will drive this scheme which is unlikely to be complete before 2017.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"At the moment most passport renewals involve getting a picture taken in a photo-booth, filling in a form and sending both off with a cheque.

What is not realised is that this new scheme will require around five million people a year presenting themselves at "enrolment centres", bringing with them documents to prove they are who they are, checks will be carried out on an unspecified number of state and commercial databases, their fingerprints will be taken and then they will have to pose for a facial scan. The biometric data will then be added to the contactless micro-chip together with personal data.

The likelihood is that by the time this scheme is in full swing the same passport-ID card will contain a person's NHS health records and convictions for any offence and also be their bank and credit card. It is likely too that access to the data held on the card will be given to all law enforcement agencies, many state agencies (eg: welfare payments, tax and customs), employers, insurance companies, credit agencies and banks.

The only protection against the misuse and abuse of this mountain of personal data is the Data Protection Act which quite<

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