A civil rights group has dismissed claims that identity cards will prevent terrorist attacks.
Ten thousand volunteers are wanted for the trial
Ten thousand volunteers will take part in a trial of the ID cards, to be launched next week, the BBC has learnt.
Home Secretary David Blunkett says the cards will stop people using multiple identities and boost the fight against terrorism and organised crime.
However, civil rights group Liberty says "it's a myth the ID cards will solve these problems".
"We have ID cards in many European countries, but levels of crime and the terrorist threat remain the same," Liberty spokesman Barry Hugill told the BBC.
He gave the example of the terror attacks on 11 March in Madrid, which had occurred even though Spain has an identity card scheme.
2008: 80% of economically active population will carry some form of biometric identity document
Estimated cost of £3.1bn
Consortium of companies in UKPS trials led by SchlumbergerSema include NEC, Identix, Iridian
Source: Home Office
Civil liberties groups say having several methods of identification, including passports, driving licences and benefit cards, is still the safest option.
They predict the cards could worsen race discrimination, particularly as foreign nationals will have to carry the cards before Britons.
The Liberal Democrats also criticised the proposed trials as "a waste of time and money".
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said: "The £3 billion cost of ID cards would be better spent on more police and more intelligence services to tackle terrorism."
The chairman of an influential committee also expressed concerns, saying the public must "wake up" to the hidden dangers of identity cards.
The Earl of Selborne, chairman of the Royal Society's science in society committee said: "There has been a lack of public debate and there is a very real danger that we are sleepwalking into our technological future."
The government hopes the pilot scheme will pave the way for compulsory identity cards within the next decade.
Ministers will detail plans for a nationwide identity database on Monday when draft legislation is published.
Carrying false identity papers will also become a specific offence for the first time, with offenders facing up to 10 years in jail, say government sources.
The new cards will hold biometric details - facial dimensions, an iris scan or fingerprints.
The pilot scheme will try to assess which option works best.
Neil Fisher, from QinetiQ - one of the companies developing the new technology - said people would want to prove their identity to show they were not a risk.
He told the BBC: "You will want to be able to authenticate your identity almost for any transaction that you do, be it going to the bank, shops, airport."
A recent opinion poll suggested 80% of people backed a national ID card scheme.
But most of the 1,000 people questioned by MORI expressed doubts the cards could be introduced without problems.
Nothing to fear?
Almost half would not want to pay for cards - a £35 fee has been proposed.
On Thursday, Mr Blunkett said the cards would probably be free for young people, with concessions for the elderly and those on low incomes.
From 2007-08 all new passports and driving licences will include biometric data, with separate identity cards for non-drivers and those without passports.
By 2012, an estimated 80% of workers will have the card or a combined driving licence or passport.
The plans are designed to tackle identity fraud, which costs Britain an estimated £1.3bn each year.
"What has anybody to worry about having their true identity known?" Mr Blunkett said.
"They have got everything to fear from someone stealing and misusing it."
The government has said it sees ID cards as a weapon against terrorism.