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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 18 December, 2002, 09:30 GMT
UK plans for ID cards under fire
Mock-up of ID card
ID cards have been welcomed in some quarters
Introducing a national ID card scheme in Britain would cost around 1.5bn, say critics of the plans.

At the first public debate into the idea of ID cards since the government launched a consultation in July, there was fierce opposition to the plan.

Critics say the government's consultation document on the scheme is woolly and fails to come up with any real reasons why ID cards should be introduced.

Ministers say the nationwide scheme would cut down on identity fraud and help deal with the problem of illegal immigration in the UK.

Orwellian language

Introducing ID cards would require a huge database of biometric information including fingerprints, iris and facial recognition, ministers admit.

Charles Moore, Editor of Daily Telegraph
Charles Moore: Fierce opponent of the scheme
"There will be a gigantic bureaucracy. Having 45 million adults' irises photographed is an astonishing undertaking," said Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore.

He is one of the fiercest opponents of the scheme, accusing the government of using Orwellian language to persuade the public that ID cards are a good idea.

Even the government's preferred title of Universal Entitlement card is misleading, he said.

"Entitlement suggests the public are getting something out of it but in fact they won't gain entitlement to anything they don't already have," he said.

"The government calls it a universal card but it is compulsory. Universal is a nice word and compulsory is a nasty word," he said.

Easy access

The government is keen to stress the benefits of an ID card.

As sure as night follows day it will become compulsory to carry it,

Peter Lilley, Former social security secretary
Lord Falconer, Minister of State for Criminal Justice said the cards would make it easier for the public to use government services.

"There is constant repetition in establishing entitlement to services. It is bureaucratic, complicated and often delayed," he said.

"A Universal Entitlement Card would ease that."

Supporters of the scheme told the audience that carrying an ID card would be little different to the passport, driving license or other forms of ID.

Although Lord Falconer stressed that there were no plans to make people carry or produce their ID cards, the majority of the audience remained sceptical.

"As sure as night follows day, it will become compulsory to carry it," said former Conservative Secretary of State for Social Security Peter Lilley.

'No reason'

He has had his own experience of ID cards.

It may be possible to get the entire biography of subsequent generations at the click of a mouse

Terri Dowty, Children's Rights Alliance
"It was repeatedly suggested to the last Conservative Cabinet by junior technology ministers as a way of demonstrating our modernising, hi-tech credentials," he said.

"They said an all-singing, all-dancing smart card must surely solve all our problems," he said.

However he said police claims that they almost never had problems identifying suspects, that terrorists rarely concealed their identity and that the illegal immigrants already had ID cards, eliminated the reasons for introducing such a scheme.

Medical details

Many of the speakers expressed concerns about what kind of information would creep onto the database that backed up the cards.

Terri Dowty, Joint Coordinator of the Children's Rights Alliance for England was worried about future generations.

"It may be possible to get the entire biography of subsequent generations at the click of a mouse," she said.

Marion Chester, Legal director of the Association of Community Health Councils was concerned that sensitive medical information could be included.

The meeting concluded with a plea from organisers Privacy International to extend the consultation period on the ID card scheme beyond its January deadline.

See also:

08 Dec 02 | Technology
03 Dec 02 | Politics
04 Oct 02 | Technology
04 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
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