Page last updated at 00:42 GMT, Tuesday, 7 April 2009 01:42 UK

ID cards 'could use chip-and-pin'

Foreign worker ID card
The first ID cards have been issued to foreign workers

The UK's ID cards could be fitted with chip-and-pin technology to tackle identity fraud, the head of the agency responsible for them has said.

Identity and Passport Service chief executive James Hall said there were no "technical obstacles" to the idea.

He said this could allow ID cards to be used in cash machines and help online consumers "assert their identities".

Just half of the cards meant for non-EU nationals were issued in the scheme's initial months, it has also emerged.

Ministers predicted that between 40,000 and 50,000 foreign nationals would have had cards by the end of March this year, following the launch in November 2008.

But instead just 22,500 cards were issued. Mr Hall said the system was working well despite the "odd wrinkle", but the figures justified the agency's decision not to stage a "big bang" launch of ID cards.

'Compelling view'

Mr Hall said officials were holding talks about chip-and-pin as one way to help protect internet shoppers and users of cash machines.

He added: "One of the reasons for the format of the card is we have the opportunity to put it in to card readers and potentially use it in existing networks such as the ATM network.

"We are in discussions with the financial services industry and, if they come forward with a compelling view of the rationale for chip-and-pin for them, that's definitely something we'll take extremely seriously.

"If we conclude that chip-and-pin is a key part of making it useful, there's no technical reason why we couldn't do it."

The first biometric cards were issued in November, initially to non-EU students and marriage visa holders.

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency (UKBA) said 42,000 foreign nationals had been registered and had their biometric details taken, but not all had received their cards.

"There is no delay and all applicants have been enrolled, but it is only right their cases are properly processed and considered by UKBA to ensure they meet the strict criteria for working or living in the UK," the spokesman added.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has announced which companies have won contracts worth £650m for cards and biometric passports.

IT firm CSC was awarded the £385m contract to provide application systems.

IBM won a £265m contract to build a database storing fingerprint and facial image data.

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