Page last updated at 16:35 GMT, Thursday, 6 March 2008

ID cards 'must be free of charge'

A sample ID card
Critics say the cards are unlikely to prevent future terrorist attacks

The British public will reject ID cards unless they are free of charge, a government commissioned report says.

Former banker Sir James Crosby also says the scheme should be independent of government to boost public trust - and data held kept to a minimum.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith earlier relaunched ID cards as "consumer led" rather than compulsory - in line with Sir James's recommendations.

But the government still plans to charge people £30 for a card.

A Home Office spokesman said citizens had to pay for other forms of ID - such as driving licences and passports - and ministers thought the planned price was a fair reflection of the costs.

In a speech earlier, Ms Smith said ID cards would eventually be compulsory for all non-EU foreign nationals and people working in "sensitive" airside jobs in airports.

'Universal scheme'

But she said plans to force people to get a card when they apply for a passport have been shelved, as she attempts to introduce the scheme in more consumer-friendly stages.

To engage consumers' hearts and minds on the scale required, enrolment and any tokens should be provided free of charge
Challenges and opportunities in identity assurance

From next year, students who open bank accounts will be given the option to sign up to the scheme.

Ms Smith said she was "indebted" to Sir James - whose report recommends a "consumer driven" approach - and calls on the government to work with high street banks to deliver a "universal ID assurance scheme".

The report attacks existing public sector ID systems, saying within five years some people could have a "wallet full" of tokens to identity them.

And it says current government systems - such as National Insurance numbers - are too expensive and difficult to use for many firms trying to check the identity of prospective employees.

'Security services'

It recommends basing the "ID assurance scheme" on banks' own chip and PIN system - expanded to cover people without bank accounts and with improved security.

It also claims a private sector-led scheme would deliver a more secure system.

"Provided the universal ID assurance system infrastructure embraces public services, banking, transportation and e-commerce, it will produce an unrivalled amount of data for national security agencies.

The government is committed to keeping the costs of the scheme as low as possible and costs have already been cut by £1bn
Home Office spokesman

"Ironically, therefore, the system that is genuinely consumer led because it meets consumers' needs and inspires their trust would deliver a better national security outcome than one with its origins explicitly in security and data sharing across government."

The report is critical of the government's 2006 plans for introducing ID cards, which it said will not deliver a consumer-led scheme.

It recommends making the ID scheme independent from government and allowing citizens to "own" their data - so it could not be allowed to leave the database without their consent.

Facial scans

It also says the scheme should also be "rolled out at pace".

And it says the ID card computer systems should be "closely aligned to those of the banks...so as to utilise their investment, de-risk the scheme's development and assist convergence to common standards".

"To engage consumers' hearts and minds on the scale required, enrolment and any tokens should be provided free of charge," it adds.

The Home Office has scrapped plans to use its own offices around the country to take people's fingerprints and photographs in favour of private sector bidders.

But a spokesman said it still planned to charge for ID cards.

"The government is committed to keeping the costs of the scheme as low as possible and costs have already been cut by £1bn.

"However, we currently charge for identity documents such as passports and driving licences and the government thinks it is a fair way of meeting the cost of issuing identity cards."

The then Chancellor Gordon Brown appointed Sir James - a former Chief Executive of HBOS - to chair the Public-Private Forum on Identity Management in July 2006.

The group was asked to review identity management and consider how the public and private sectors could work together.

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