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Last Updated: Monday, 26 April, 2004, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
ID card technology trial launched
Des Browne, home office minister
Home office minister Des Browne demonstrates the proposed ID card
A trial of identity card technology was launched on Monday involving 10,000 volunteers.

The move comes as draft legislation outlining plans for a national ID card scheme was published.

Home Secretary David Blunkett has defended the idea, saying ID cards could be an effective tool in the fight against terrorism.

Carrying false ID papers is to become a specific offence, with offenders facing up to 10 years in jail.

'Soft touch'

Ministers believe that as well as combating terrorism, the cards will help to crack down on ID fraud, human trafficking and illegal working, as well as stopping people exploiting health and welfare services.

ID PLANS
Draft legislation outlining the plans will be published on Monday
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

Mr Blunkett said the scheme was essential to prevent Britain becoming a "soft touch" for terrorists, although he admitted it would not "solve the problem" on its own, as only 35% of terrorists had false identities.

He claimed the biometric system planned for the UK, which stores an individual's fingerprints or iris scan, would be impossible to forge - unlike the identity cards used elsewhere in Europe.

"Those who don't have secure biometric identity through their passport visa and ID card system will be known by the terrorists to be the easiest touch," the home secretary told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"It is why we need to be ahead of the game. That's why we need to be ahead of the rest of the developed world who are now turning to biometrics."

He said he was putting his "political neck on the block" with the proposals, which are believed to have met opposition from within the Cabinet.

Safeguards

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said the proposed scheme was too expensive and there was no guarantee it would work.

"I would much rather see the 3bn that's going to be incurred in looking at better intelligence," he told Today.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said the Tories backed the idea of ID cards - but key concerns had to be addressed, including the cost of any scheme, whether it will work and whether the Home Office, under David Blunkett, was capable of implementing it.

Safeguards also had to be put in place to prevent the misuse of personal information held on databases, he added.

"If it can pass all those tests - and you have got to remember you are trying to stop events that may cost thousands of lives - you have to take it seriously, and that is our position."

Large-scale test

The Bill outlines proposals for a national identity register to hold details of all 60 million people in the UK. This will enable a person's identity to be authenticated when they produce their card.

The legislation also sets out safeguards to prevent government officials from misusing the data.

As part of a large-scale test of the equipment, volunteers are having biometric details recorded, involving facial scans, iris scans and fingerprints.

Trials are beginning at the UK Passport Service's London HQ on Monday, with a further three sites across the country due to be announced later.

The biometric checks are expected to become compulsory for anyone applying for, or renewing, passports from 2007.

Biometrics will also be introduced into driving licences later.

By 2013 - when ministers are due to decide whether to make the ID cards compulsory for everyone - 80% of the population is expected to hold either a biometric passport or driving licence.

Are the public happy with the new ID scheme?

If they are made compulsory, cards will have to be produced to access a range of public services including the NHS and benefits.

The estimated 3.1bn cost of introducing the scheme will be met by increasing the cost of passports.

Civil rights campaign group Liberty said the government was effectively introducing an identity tax.

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said there were privacy implications, while no government had yet shown itself competent to manage such databases.

Conservative peer Lord Selborne, chairman of the Royal Society's science and society committee, said he wanted to know what limits would be placed on biometric data.

Terrorism expert Professor Paul Wilkinson, of St Andrew's University, said he was not convinced ID cards would aid the battle against terrorism.

He said: "The majority of the 11 September hijackers were travelling under their own names, so they wouldn't have been picked up by an ID system and, of course, the al-Qaeda network is particularly good at finding ways of getting people across borders."

Home Office Minister Des Browne said the government planned to begin rolling out the scheme by 2007.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Kim Barnes
"Criminal gangs and terrorists are getting better at forging identities"



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