Biometric testing of face, eye and fingerprints could soon be used on every resident of the UK to create compulsory identity cards. BBC News Online's Tom Geoghegan volunteered for a pilot scheme and looked, unblinking, into the future.
By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Online
As I was led up to the first floor of the UK Passport Office in London's Victoria, the butterflies I used to get at the dentist began to flutter.
Your life on a chip....within minutes
But as it turned out, the photo booth we passed on the way would have provided a more invasive exercise.
The simple 15-minute process to get my own identity card simulates what probably lies ahead for everyone.
Biometric tests are likely to be introduced for all new driving licences and passports from 2007. They could become compulsory six years later.
Explaining the purpose of the six-month pilot schemes being held across the UK, the Home Office's Peter Wilson said: "This isn't a test of the technology - that's likely to change in the future as things move on - it's the process.
"We're looking for customer reactions and perceptions, and any particular difficulties."
I was greeted in a reception area for enrolment, which consisted of filling out a form with basic information about myself such as gender, age, postcode and ethnic background.
Then I gave the form and my name to operator Rachel Davies, who fed the information into a computer.
I was ushered into a room and directed to sit in a sophisticated-looking booth, facing a hi-tech camera. No going back now.
The first test is the facial recognition, which is like a prolonged photograph without the flash.
No cheesy grins will be allowed, because the machine is scanning the measurements of your face and "doesn't like teeth".
The iris scan required more concentration because I had to stare hypnotically at two ellipses in the camera, while the machine verbally directed me.
BIOMETRIC PILOT SCHEMES
Target of 10,000 volunteers
No figures yet, but more than 16,000 have shown an interest
All details are destroyed and feedback anonymous
Set in London, Glasgow and Leicester, plus a mobile facility travelling the UK
Aims to identify any practical difficulties and give a cost projection of full scheme
Current cost predicted £1.3bn to £3.1bn
"Come closer," says a Big Brother-like voice, instructing me to shuffle my seat forward while keeping my eyes fixed on the shapes.
After about 60 seconds, the machine indicated the scanning was complete.
No messy carbon required for the fingerprints. Instead I had to put each hand's four fingers, then the thumb, on a glass scanner.
My prints appeared on a computer screen and within minutes were compared against one million others which, for the sake of the pilot scheme, had been imported from the US.
With all three tests completed, I had to give a copy of my signature which they stored electronically.
ID CARDS TIMETABLE
Nov 2003: Draft Bill published
Apr 2004: Pilot schemes begin
Autumn 2004: White Paper in Parliament
2005: Facial biometrics used on passports (scanned from passport photograph)
2007: New passports and driving licences to require biometrics, separate ID cards optional
2013: Parliament to vote on making it compulsory for all to have some form of biometric ID
I filled out a feedback form about my experience and then the card was ready and in my hands.
It's strange to think that the identity card's small microchip contains some personal information and my biometrics.
Although I don't feel psychologically invaded or like an android - as I feared I might - I can understand why others might.
Another simple fingerprint test verifies that I match the card and that's it, over.
If the government gets its way, the information on the chip would also be stored on a national identity register, accessible to the police, government departments, the Inland Revenue, immigration and intelligence services.
No wonder as I leave, a member of staff jokes: "We'll be tracking you."