Compulsory ID cards to be issued within four years
By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor
Compulsory identity cards that can be used as a travel document in Europe are to be introduced within four years under a revised scheme published yesterday by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary.
It will be backed by a national register containing personal information about cardholders. This online database will hold an "audit log" detailing every occasion on which an individual's record has been checked.
From 2007, the cards will be issued automatically as a separate document whenever a passport is renewed. An earlier plan for a combined passport and ID card has been abandoned. The total cost of both documents will be around £77.
Those who are not renewing their passport will be able to buy the card separately for £35. The current cost of a 10-year passport is £42.
However, it will not be an option to refuse to have an ID card - even though Parliament will not be asked to make the scheme compulsory for almost 10 years. It is envisaged that 80 per cent of the adult population will have the card by 2013.
At that point, parliamentary approval will be sought to make it a requirement for the remainder of the population to possess an ID card. Only foreign nationals in the country for three months or less will be exempt. It will not be a legal requirement for anyone to carry the card with them.
An executive agency will handle both passports and ID cards and a National Identity Scheme Commissioner will oversee the project.
The ID card, which will contain biometric data such as iris recognition patterns, will be accepted as a travel document throughout the 25 EU member states, as well as countries belonging to the European Economic Area such as Norway and Iceland.
Mr Blunkett's revised plan was announced as part of the Government's response to a critical report from the Commons home affairs select committee earlier this year, which questioned whether the technology for a foolproof scheme existed.
The Home Office cites opinion polls suggesting that 70 per cent or more of the public support ID cards. However, the results of its own consultation exercise also published yesterday showed that 48 per cent of respondents were opposed and only 31 per cent in favour.
The Home Office discounted these findings on the grounds that those who replied to the exercise were "self-selecting".
Mr Blunkett said that by moving to a single, universal ID card for all UK nationals, the scheme would be easier to understand and was what people wanted.
"Together with electronic border controls, they will help us tackle illegal migration and working, organised crime, terrorist activity, identity theft and fraudulent access to public services," he said. "They will help our citizens travel freely and complete everyday transactions securely and easily."
The ID scheme is expected to cost more than £3 billion to set up and further sums will be needed to provide thousands of machines needed to read the documents.
Privacy campaigners said they would step up their opposition to the plan.
Mark Littlewood, of the NO2ID coalition against identity cards, said: "An ID card and the accompanying database represent a serious threat to our privacy, will cost the taxpayer billions of pounds and will have little or no impact on cutting terrorism or crime."
Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "The Government would be much better off spending the £3 billion on more police on our streets and ensuring that the intelligence services are properly resourced to tackle terrorism."