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Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 23:44 GMT
Move towards compulsory ID cards
How the ID cards could look
The ID cards could cost 1bn to introduce
The introduction of compulsory identity cards in Britain has moved a step closer with a plan for "entitlement cards".

Home Secretary David Blunkett is asking for feedback on the cards, which holders would not be obliged to carry.

It is suggested they would be used to clamp down on fraud by checking rights to receive NHS treatment, education and state benefits.

The whole idea is unwieldy and too expensive

Mike O'Brien
Former minister
The computerised cards could store a photograph, finger prints and personal information including name and address.

Although it would be compulsory to possess a card, Mr Blunkett stressed it would not be mandatory for holders to carry it.

BBC Political Editor Andrew Marr said legislation on the cards might be expected towards the end of this year or early in 2003.

Civil Rights group Liberty told BBC News Online it would oppose the plans, which follow the introduction of identity cards for asylum seekers last week.

Many arguments

Outlining the scheme Mr Blunkett said: "We have made it clear that the introduction of an entitlement card would be a major step and that we will not proceed without consulting widely and considering all the views expressed very carefully.

"There are many arguments - both philosophical and practical - for and against a scheme."

Former Labour Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien argues introducing ID cards, which he believes could be easily forged, would cost 1bn.

Refugees attempting to reach the UK
ID cards for asylum seekers were introduced last week
Mr O'Brien believes the money would be better spent on policing.

He told BBC One's Ten O'Clock News: "The whole idea of ID cards at a cost of over 1bn is unwieldy and too expensive.

"There are better ways of reducing crime."

Home Affairs Minister Angela Eagle said the cards might worry some people but would offer advantages.

"It's important to be able to establish identity quickly.

"It may be very convenient if entitlement cards allow quicker access both to financial services in the private sector and state public services.

"The disadvantatages may be that people feel there's too much information around that they feel they are being watched."

Identity fraud

Mr Blunkett said the main use of the cards would be to demonstrate what entitlement people have to state services, not to identify them.

His spokesman said: "We're not interested in just having another form of ID because people already have a passport or driving licence."

It is thought the system could also make it easier for banks to cut down on identity fraud, such as credit card crime or bogus benefit claims.

Home Secretary David Blunkett
David Blunkett has asked for feedback on the cards
But Liberty's campaigns director Mark Littlewood called on the government to look at alternative ways of tackling identity fraud.

Rejecting the idea that people would not be forced into carrying the cards, he said: "If it's going to be necessary to have one to access all types of service it is, for all intents and purposes, compulsory."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon said the party also opposed the idea of identity cards which could become "show on demand".

But the spokesman insisted: "We're not going to have apartheid-style stop and search as part of this.

Early feedback hopes

"The government has already said that is not an option."

Although a consultation paper could be published by the government in the spring or summer, Mr Blunkett wants feedback before that.

The government hopes entitlement cards will pay for themselves, by cutting the cost of fraud.

It is thought they would be based on the Applicant Registration Cards (ARC), launched for all new asylum seekers last week.

The BBC's John Pienaar
"Some say making people show cards too often is the road to the big brother state"
Home Office minister Angela Eagle
"We've ruled out having a compulsion to carry the card"
See also:

31 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Asylum seekers given 'smart' ID cards
25 Sep 01 | UK
A question of identity
01 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Compulsory ID cards 'ruled out'
24 Sep 01 | UK Politics
ID cards opposition grows
14 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Blunkett considers ID cards
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