Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Tuesday, 19 June 2007 15:41 UK

ID cards 'to be UK institution'

A sample ID card
British citizens will have ID cards from 2009, the government plans

The identity card scheme will become a "great British institution" on a par with the railways in the 19th Century, Home Office minister Liam Byrne says.

He said it was "time to get on with it" and predicted that the National Identity Scheme "will soon become part of the fabric of British life".

But plans to "multiply the uses" of the ID scheme would mean there should be stronger accountability to Parliament.

Current ID trials include employment, age and criminal records checks.

The Home Office intends to introduce biometric identification for foreign nationals in 2008, with the first ID cards for British citizens issued in 2009.

Fingerprint data

The plans for ID cards have proved controversial and are opposed by both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats on cost, effectiveness and civil liberty grounds.

And Phil Booth, from the anti-ID card campaign group No2ID, said: "It is crazy to suggest that the best way to 'protect' our identities in the future is to hand them to the Home Office - the department of cock-up and cover-up. These are the last people on earth you should trust to keep your information safe."

Mr Byrne, the immigration minister, said: "In 20 years time, I suspect that the National Identity Scheme will be just a normal part of British life - another great British institution without which modern life, whatever it looks like in 2020, would be quite unthinkable."

If we are to multiply the uses... I think we should look hard at how the commissioner or Parliament is involved - more dynamically than an annual report
Liam Byrne
Home Office minister

He said they would help secure borders, help people avoid fraud as internet use soars and would help avoid "a proliferation of plastic, passwords and PINs".

At a Chatham House conference on identity management and global mobility, he said almost 400,000 people applying for a British visa had had their fingerprint checks by spring this year.

Of those, more than 4,000 had been spotted through biometric checking as having withheld information on a previous immigration matter, he said.

Nearly 2,800 of those matches were with fingerprint data previously collected in the UK from people who have attempted to claim asylum.

More than 300 of the matches were with people who had previously been subject to removal directions.


In other areas of "usefulness", Mr Byrne said trials were progressing between the Criminal Records Bureau and the Identity and Passport Service, involving 200 volunteers, aimed at reducing the time taken for background criminal checks from four weeks to four days.

These are the checks best known for being carried on people who want to work with children, or parents who want to help out at a school.

Another trial involved the identity service and the Borders and Immigration Agency's employers' checking service - employers will be able to check the validity of British passports as evidence of an applicant's identity and right to live and work in the UK.

Mr Byrne also said work was under way with the retail industry to standardise proof of age checks for sales of restricted goods such as knives, solvents and alcohol.

'Meet those with views'

There were "further joint ventures" planned with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Government Gateway, a registration website promoted as a "single point of entry" for government transactions, such as filing VAT returns, he said.

During a speech in which he said the scheme would be self financing once up and running, Mr Byrne said he wanted to see a greater role for the proposed National Identity Scheme Commissioner.

The commissioner will be appointed to oversee the operation, particularly the uses of ID cards and the confidentiality of the information gathered, reporting to Parliament annually.

But, Mr Byrne said: "If we are to multiply the uses of the NIR (National Identity Register) I think we should look hard at how the commissioner or Parliament is involved - more dynamically than an annual report."

He said he planned "to meet those with views shortly to begin this conversation".

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