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British Government Funds National ID PR Campaign

London Telegraph | October 13 2004

The Home Office is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds recruiting a PR team to sell the benefits of compulsory identity cards before legislation for the scheme has been before Parliament.

It is advertising for a head of marketing on a salary of up to £66,000 to promote the ID scheme not only to the public but to MPs and public sector groups. Legislation enabling the Government to set up a population database containing the details of every citizen and to begin issuing ID cards in three years is due to be included in the next Queen's Speech.

From 2007, all new passports and drivers' licences will double as ID cards. By the time they have been issued to 80 per cent of the country, Parliament will be asked to make the scheme compulsory for all. A programme team has been set up to mastermind the plan, including the testing of the biometric identifiers, such as iris prints, that will be included on the cards.

Home Office figures show that by the end of March, 23 civil servants and three full-time secondees were working on the ID programme. Officials in other departments are also contributing, along with six external part-time consultants contracted to provide specialised advice on particular parts of the programme.

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, accused the Home Office of jumping the gun. "Parliamentary scrutiny seems to be an inconvenience rather than a necessity," he said. "I would like to remind the Home Secretary [David Blunkett] that ID cards are not universally popular. The Bill is going to face stiff opposition both in the Commons and the Lords."

Mr Blunkett is determined to press ahead with the ID card plan, which he maintains will "aid in the fight against identity theft, illegal working and immigration, organised crime and terrorism." But he has been accused of "bouncing" the Cabinet into giving the go ahead for what will be a compulsory scheme despite ministerial misgivings.

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