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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 April, 2004, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
ID cards 'will aid terror fight'
Mock-up ID card
Ten thousand volunteers are wanted for the trial
Home Secretary David Blunkett has defended his proposal for a national ID card scheme, saying it could be effective in fighting terrorism.

Draft legislation outlining the plans will be published on Monday and a pilot trial is due to begin this week.

Civil rights groups say it is a "myth" the cards will prevent terror attacks.

But Mr Blunkett told the BBC: "This isn't some sort of fetish. This is about recognising the massive change that's taken place in the world."

Speaking on BBC One's Breakfast With Frost programme, he said the programme would begin voluntarily before expanding to cover the population as a whole.

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

"Within three years we will be in a position to start everyone having a biometric passport issued and along with it a biometric card."

This would include specific identifiers like iris scans, finger prints or facial recognition.

"Within seven years we'd start to move towards a position... where people generally across the whole population, have got an ID card," he said.

"At that point, we've agreed that we'll present a report to parliament on how it's working, the objectives of compulsion and at that point we'll have a vote."

Mr Blunkett said the cards would stop terrorists from using multiple identities, which would help prevent attacks.

"People said to me you couldn't stop the World Trade Centre attacks, you couldn't stop the Madrid bombing with ID cards," he said.

'End exploitation'

"The Spanish do [have an ID card] - but it isn't a foolproof biometric card with a database, with the ability to test not only the card... but actually the person and the card they hold.

"That's what will be potentially possible and this will ensure that they can't have multiple identities."

Cards could also help combat so-called health tourism and benefit fraud, Mr Blunkett suggested.

Are the public happy with the new ID scheme?

"The exploitation of our services, particularly our health and welfare services, is something we'll be able to clamp down on," he told Frost.

"We'll be able to ensure that through true identity we can avoid clandestine entry and clandestine working."

The scheme would not depend on people carrying their cards at all times.

Mr Blunkett said the technology would allow officials to double-check someone's identity simply by scanning, for example, an iris or a fingerprint.

He said: "This is about true identity: Being known, being checkable... in order to know who's in the country, what they're entitled to, and whether they're up to no good."

'Real danger'

But the proposal faces opposition among Labour's own backbenches, with Labour MP David Winnick saying the entire idea should be "dropped."

"I think this is a very costly exercise which will not do what is claimed by the home secretary and other enthusiasts," he said.

Before we know it we may find our privacy has been encroached
Earl of Selborne

Civil rights group Liberty raised concerns the government would be unable to keep personal data secure, raising privacy concerns.

Executive director Shami Chakrabarti said: "[David Blunkett] is too quick to offer various draconian measures as a magic bullet to whatever our fears are this week - terrorism, illegal immigration and so on."

Campaigners say having several methods of identification, including passports, driving licences and benefit cards, is the safest option.

Card cost

Ministers have said the 3.1bn cost of introducing a national ID card will be met by raising the cost of passports.

Mr Blunkett said it would cost approximately 31 per person to add biometric details to passports, and people would only pay around an extra 4 for the ID card element.

But he said there would be concessions for the elderly and those on low incomes or applying for their first card at the age of 16.

Government sources say that under the new proposals, carrying false identity papers will become a specific offence for the first time, with offenders facing up to 10 years in jail.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Some say the timetable is too slow"

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