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10,000 to test eye scan and fingerprint scheme

London Guardian

The electronic "biometric" eye scans and fingerprints that lie at the heart of the new national identity card scheme are to be tested by 10,000 volunteers in a six month Home Office trial starting in the next few weeks.
The draft bill setting up Britain's first national identity card scheme for nearly 50 years is expected to follow in January. The Commons home affairs select committee announced yesterday it will conduct a detailed inquiry into the proposals this autumn.

A 12-page white paper, Identity Cards: the Next Steps, published yesterday by the home secretary, David Blunkett, lays down for the first time how he intends to carry out the phased introduction of his compulsory identity card scheme.

The main impact of the cabinet revolt on the issue appears to have been to delay the introduction of legislation from this year's Queen's speech to next. Mr Blunkett insisted that it will be introduced before the next general election. The plan is to introduce identity cards in two phases.

First stage


The legislation will establish a national identity register; develop more secure passports and driving licences using biometric technology; introduce a voluntary plain identity card for those who do not need a passport or driving licence; and introduce mandatory biometric ID cards for the 4.5 million resident foreign nationals in Britain. It will also include safeguards over who can access the database, to protect privacy.

Second stage


The move to compulsion will take place when the technology is seen to be working, take-up reaches more than 80% of the population, and the public accepts the idea. It will require full debate and a vote in both houses of parliament. It will be compulsory to have the card - but not to carry it - and to produce a card to get access to public services, such as health, education and housing.

Decisions about how those without cards are denied access will be taken by each public service. Separate decisions will be taken in Scotland and Wales. Access to emergency health treatment and emergency welfare benefits would be be guaranteed, but claims for non-emergency NHS treatment would be denied.

National identity register


This will be built from scratch over three years as people are issued with identity cards, passports and driving licences at a cost of 186m. The Home Office has decided not to "rely solely on other sources of data which may have historical or other errors". However, before an entry is confirmed it will be checked against other databases such as passports, driving licences and immigration records. It will be linked to, but not based on, the Treasury's citizen information register now being developed, which brings together existing government databases.

The information held will only be basic identity data, including name, date of birth, gender, immigration status, unique personal number and a confirmed biometric identifier such as eye scan or electronic fingerprint. This will be enshrined in law. The police and other organisations will not have "routine" access to the national identity register except for terrorist and serious crime investigations.

Police powers


The police will not have the power to stop someone in the street and demand to see their card. However if they believe that somebody is committing an arrestable offence they will be able to demand they come to the station and prove their identity.

In time new "livescan" technology will mean that a police officer will be able to scan a card on the street and check the entry on the central database.

Biometrics


Everybody will have to have an eye or fingerprint scan at the post office or local council office so that their "biometric" information can be stored on a microchip embedded in the card and on the national identity register.

A debate is going on in Europe over the best type of biometric to be stored on the card. The European commission says that to ensure maximum security all 10 fingerprints should be stored on the card. But currently available cards can only take two fingerprints, which has a much higher "error rate". The British preference is for iris scans which, it is claimed, have a near-zero error rate.

Costs


The Treasury has insisted that the whole cost of the scheme be met by charging or from existing departmental budgets. The Home Office said yesterday that a 10-year plain identity card will cost about 35. A combined biometric passport/identity card valid for 10 years will be 77; a biometric driving licence/ID card will be 73. Holders of both will pay only the full cost of the first.

The ID card will be free to all 16-year-olds when they qualify for the card and there will be a reduced 10 charge for those on low incomes. Those over 65 will be given a lifelong card. Cards may have to be replaced after five years because the chip wears out, but there will not be an extra charge.

Foreign nationals


The ID card will become compulsory first of all for the 4.5 million foreign nationals living in Britain for more than three months. From 2007 they will have to exchange their residence permits for a new generation identity card backed by the register. This will include EU nationals, but most - 2.3 million - will be long-term residents from developing countries.

Negotiations have opened with the Irish government on whether the special "common travel area" position of the one million Irish people living in Britain means they will have to have a UK identity card.

Consultation results


The Home Office claimed that the public response to their consultation last year showed 62% support and the term "identity card" was preferred to "entitlement card". Focus group research for the Home Office said the majority felt ID cards might halt "the perceived loss of order" and held out the hope of a "return to more secure times".

But research also confirmed the existence of a "highly vocal rejecting minority who will be difficult to convince" and who feel strongly there is a risk of abuse not only by hackers but also by the government itself.

What happens next?

Autumn 2003 Six month pilot trial of new face and fingerprint 'biometric' security features starts with 10,000 volunteers. Draft legislation published

Autumn 2004 Legislation introduced setting up national ID scheme, including national computer database register

2006 Introduction of new 'credit card' passport including biometric features for travel around Europe

2007 Plain identity cards introduced. National identity database up and running. Phased introduction of combined biometric passports and driving licences combined with identity cards

2013 Decision to be made by cabinet and parliament if scheme is to be confirmed as compulsory

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