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'Martyrs' who fail to register for ID cards face 2,500 fines

By Nigel Morris and Ben Russell

30 November 2004

People who refuse to register with the planned national identity cards database will be fined 2,500, the Government said yesterday.

There will also be penalties of 1,000 for those who fail to renew their ID cards or forget to update their details when they move home. The fines will be levied when it becomes compulsory to co-operate with the controversial ID cards scheme, expected to happen by 2012.

With polls saying 20 per cent of the public oppose the plans and an anti-ID cards group claiming to be signing hundreds of new supporters daily, it raises the prospect of "ID card martyrs" embarrassing a future Labour government.

Phil Booth, spokesman for protest group NO2ID, said: "The penalties are outrageous. Millions of people oppose the plans; people are telling us that they would rather go to prison than sign up."

In an effort to reassure civil liberties groups worried about the impact of the Identity Cards Bill, which was published yesterday, the Government announced swingeing penalties for abuse of the register that will underpin the ID card scheme.

Anyone caught tampering with it will face up to 10 years' prison, while officials who improperly reveal confidential information face up to two years in jail. Fraudulently using an ID card will carry up to 10 years' imprisonment, as will creating a false entry on the National Identity Register. Dishonestly obtaining an ID card, or altering one, will carry up to two years in jail.

Tony Blair insisted identity cards would "protect, rather than erode, civil liberties", arguing the scheme would make Britain's borders safer, combat crime and prevent fraudulent use of public services.

The Bill also disclosed that ID cards could become compulsory sooner than previously thought. Ministers had said they would wait until 80 per cent of adults had registered for a voluntary scheme - estimated to be about 2012 - before it becomes compulsory. But the Bill left the Government with the option of pushing through the final phase at an earlier date.

The first cards will be issued on a voluntary basis from 2008 when passports are renewed at a cost to travellers of 85, although the eventual figure could be slightly higher.

They will carry "biometric" details, such as fingerprints or an electronic scan of the iris of the eye. These details - along with a photograph, signature, date of birth, address and nationality - will be stored on the central register.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, defended ID cards in the House of Commons yesterday as he opened the penultimate day of debate on the Queen's Speech. He pledged to listen to proposals on the measure and attempted to reassure MPs, declaring: "We don't intend to hold any more information than we currently hold on a whole range of requirements including driving licences and passports."

He added: "To remove fear of difference we need to strengthen hope ... Strengthening our identity is one way of reinforcing confidence and people's sense of citizenship.

"Knowing your true identity and being able to demonstrate it is a positive plus. It is a basic human right, so reforming the identity system ... is absolutely crucial."

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said the cards posed "very real threats" to civil liberties, especially given Labour's record.

"Frankly, why should anyone trust this government, of all governments, to treat the information it holds about them with respect and sensitivity."

The Labour MP Glenda Jackson said her constituents in Hampstead and Highgate, north London, opposed the scheme as an infringement of civil liberties and warned it faced technical problems. Mr Blunkett told her he was happy to undertake further consultation during the passage of the Bill through Parliament.