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Millions to get ID cards within 3 years

London Times

The Home Secretary has taken a first step to what he hopes will be chips for everyone

MILLIONS of people will be issued with identity cards within three years under David Blunkett’s plans for a national scheme announced yesterday. The first compelled to have a card — from 2006 — will be the country’s 4.6 million foreign citizens.

A year later British citizens renewing or applying for a passport will be issued with a travel document that could be used as an identity card. They will have to undergo fingerprint and iris scans at post offices or register offices before being issued with a new passport or driving licence.

The passport will cost £77 and will include biometric features such as an iris or fingerprints, which could be checked against a database containing details of all citizens. The driving licence with biometrics will cost £73.

A person who has neither a driving licence nor a passport would be able to apply for a plain identity card costing £35 for ten years. People aged 16 would get the card free and there would be reduced rates of £10 for those on low incomes. Individuals would also be able to pay by instalments.

The Home Office estimates that by 2013 almost 80 per cent of the population would possess either a passport or driving licence containing biometric details, stored on a microchip. Parliament will then be asked whether to make having a card compulsory for all. Mr Blunkett, the Home Secretary, made clear yesterday that he is in favour of that, though people would not have to carry it at all times. He said: “The full benefits cannot be achieved without compulsion.”

Ministers were unable to pinpoint the cost of buying and installing machines to “read” the card data. Mr Blunkett said that once the system was in place, there would be different grades of authentication.

At the lowest level, going for a job interview could require a simple visual check that the face matched the picture on the card, he said. Taking up a new job would require the card to be checked against the national database to authenticate the biometric data. Other examples requiring cards to be cross-referred against the database would include making a new benefit claim or register- ing with a doctor.

Passport cards might have to be renewed every five years, as that is when the chip would need replacing.

Yesterday’s Home Office document outlined steps which, if implemented, would lead to a voluntary identity card scheme being in place by 2013. Under the proposals, Mr Blunkett will publish a draft Bill in January that will set out plans for a national identity register containing everyone’s details. The Bill will outline what should be on the database — name, address, age and sex. It is not expected to include marital status or health records.

Passports that include biometrics on a chip will start to be issued from about 2006-07. The move for biometrics to be included in travel documents is being driven partly by international agreements to make passports more secure. The Home Office has yet to decide what biometrics should be included in the chip. Most chips now can contain only two fingerprints, but the bigger the chip, the more it costs. Mr Blunkett estimated start-up costs at £180 million over the first three years. But the Home Office was unable to provide costings for those firms and other state agencies that would need readers to check cards if the scheme is made compulsory.

Under yesterday’s proposals the police and other organisations would not have “routine” access to data stored on the National Identity Register, but the Home Office said that there were strong arguments for allowing such access to help in the fight against serious crime and terrorism. Police will not have the power to stop someone and demand to see their card, though it is likely that it would have to be produced at a police station if required.

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, called the idea “the latest headline-grabbing initiative to cover splits in the Government. It won’t stop terrorists, catch fraudsters or deter illegal immigrants, yet it will cost the taxpayers billions.”

Questions were raised last night about the scheme’s feasibility. The police said that it would be of limited benefit in tackling illegal working and illegal immigration and in reducing crime.

The watchdog group Privacy International called the proposals “mathematically and technologically” impossible to achieve. Intellect, the IT industry’s trade association, has told the Home Office that it is unrealistic to develop a national population register in the short or medium term.

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