Page last updated at 09:20 GMT, Monday, 30 November 2009

ID cards available to people in Greater Manchester

Home Secretary Alan Johnson with his newly issued National Identity Card
Alan Johnson used his ID card instead of a passport to travel to Brussels

People living in Greater Manchester have become the first UK residents able to buy an identity card.

Anyone in the area who wants the £30 biometric ID card can enrol at passport offices or Manchester Airport.

They can be used to travel passport-free across the EU, as displayed by the Home Secretary Alan Johnson as he travelled to Brussels on Sunday.

The ID card should be available nationwide in 2011 or 2012, but it will not be compulsory.

The government argues it will help combat identity fraud, crime and terrorism.

Interviews under way

Since applications opened a fortnight ago, 1,386 people living in Greater Manchester have requested an application form, out of an eligible population of 1.7m.

Interviews started on Monday morning and the first cards will be issued within 10 days, officials said.

PROPOSED TIMETABLE
2008: Foreign National ID card launched

2009: UK ID card offered in Greater Manchester

2010: Scheme extended across NW England

June 2010: Last possible date for general election

2011-12: Nationwide roll-out?

The card is similar in look to a UK driving licence but holds more data, including two fingerprints and a photograph encoded on a chip.

This chip and its unique number in turn links the card to a national identity register which, under current legislation, could hold more information about the identity of the individual.

Mr Johnson said people in Manchester could now take advantage of the card "as a means to prove and protect their identity in a quick, simple and secure way".

"It can be used by young people as a convenient and universal proof of age and as a credit card-sized alternative to the passport when travelling in Europe," he said.

Passport replacement

Phil Booth from campaign group NO2ID said the government's claim that an ID card was a "handy alternative" to a passport was "bogus".

"You have to have one already so you will pay another £30 and set yourself up for a lifetime of fees, penalties and compliance," he said.

"Once you are on the database you will be obliged to update Whitehall's register on you for the rest of your life."

A Home Office spokesman said ID cards will be available to anyone with a "valid or recently expired passport".

"So anyone renewing their passport who plans to travel just within Europe can pay £30 for an ID card instead of £77.50 for a passport," he said.

"But we are keen to include everyone in this exciting new scheme, and will look at including those who have never had a passport as soon as we possibly can."

In June, the Home Office dropped plans to make the ID card compulsory for 200,000 airport workers amid widespread opposition from inside the industry that it would do nothing to improve the security procedures already in place.

This means only some foreign nationals are currently obliged to hold a card.

The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and civil rights campaigners say ID cards are a waste of money and will not improve national security.

The scheme is said to cost £5bn, although the London School of Economics estimates it will cost between £10bn and £20bn.

Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have said they would abolish ID cards if they win the next election.

UK NATIONAL ID CARD: KEY FEATURES EXPLAINED
ID cards
1. Symbol meaning a chip is embedded in the card
2. ID card number

3. Citizenship. Foreign nationals in the UK are being given different cards.
4. Place of birth
5. Signature - digitally embedded in the card
6. Date of card issue and date it becomes invalid
7. Photo taken to biometric standards
8. Biometric chip holds fingerprint record
9. Swipe zone. Information which can be automatically read by computer



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