BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK: Politics  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
N Ireland
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 07:55 GMT 08:55 UK
Other countries' ID schemes
An asylum seeker's ID card
Asylum seekers already have ID cards

As the UK considers introducing a form of identity card BBC News Online looks at the experience of other countries.
If you were to take a look across the English Channel from the Continent it might seem a little strange that the UK does not have a national ID card system in place.

After all, citizens from 11 out of the 15 nations of the European Union carry ID cards as a part of everyday life.

In Belgium ID cards have been in use since 1919, and in France, where it is not even compulsory to carry them more than 90% of people do anyway, their usefulness making them almost indispensable.

But putting Europe to one side, countries such as Japan feel no need to use ID cards, while Australia and New Zealand both came close to introducing them in the 1980s and 1990s, but the politicians backed off after strong public protests.

Not even the genuine fear of terrorism after the horrors of the 11 September attacks have convinced politicians in the US that they need to curb their devotion to privacy and personal freedom to bring in what Republicans and Democrats alike would see as an unacceptable infringement on the rights of the individual.

Carrying the card

Where different countries have opted to carry a card it can often be put down to one of the following reasons.

Firstly an ID card is often seen as a useful document to the authorities in countries where war, state repression, or military rule is taking place. In that case they take the role of an internal passport.

It was while facing the nightmare of the Second World War that the UK last had a national ID card system, which was scrapped by 1952.

Secondly, they are useful in enabling citizens to access government services. This is the reason why cards have become so ingrained across much of Europe.

In EU countries that have ID card schemes they can be used for cross border travel to other states within the Union.

Card curbs

But even in nations where cards have been issued by enthusiastic politicians strict limits have still been put in place.

For example in Germany the principle of "information self-determination" saw the federal constitutional court rule that although ID cards are in use, the public would not be given unique identity numbers that could be accessed by all government departments.

However even in Germany research has found that the police are more likely to stop people from ethnic minority groups to check their ID cards than the rest of the population.

Thus creating more potential for racial harassment and bad feeling between the police and ethnic groups.

Ultimately, whether the UK decides to go down the road of entitlement cards or a wider national ID card system, the time involved in setting up a system for 60 million people means it will be years before it could become a reality.

International use of ID cards
  ID cards in use Functions Additional information
Belgium Yes, and police can demand to see it Cards have been used since 1919, they can be requested by government officials The card holder's blood group can be put on the card
France Cards are used but are not compulsory, although getting by without them can be difficult Access to health, education, voting, banks and the post office Police are able to request identification, but not necessarily the ID card itself
Germany ID cards are compulsory, they have a PIN number as well as traditional details Police, local government and customs The German system does not allow government databases to share information on the card
Japan No N/A Japanese driving licences are default photo-ID
Netherlands In use, but not compulsory Work, police, government and the post office  
Portugal ID cards are compulsory here Police, private security guards, health, education, bank and post office Both a photo and fingerprints are included on the card
USA No N/A Driving licences are so widely used they are almost an unofficial form of photo ID
Source: Liberty and Charter88

Recent stories

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

 E-mail this story to a friend

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |