Home Secretary Jacqui Smith recently unveiled revamped plans for the introduction of identity cards in the UK. Here we answer some common questions.
What are the ID card plans?
Everyone over the age of 16 applying for a passport will have their details – including fingerprints and facial scans – added to a National Identity register from 2011/12. The first identity cards will be issued to non-EU foreign nationals coming to work in the UK in 2008. From 2009, about 200,000 airport workers in the UK will have to get identity cards as a condition of employment. From 2010 students will be encouraged to get ID cards when they open bank accounts. From 2011/12 the Identity and Passport Service plans to issue “significant volumes” of ID cards alongside British passports – but people will be able to opt out of having a card if they don’t want one.
How have the plans changed?
The widespread introduction of ID cards for all passport applicants has been put back by two years to 2012. Under the original plans the first British citizens would have been issued with ID cards in 2008, with the widespread roll-out taking place in 2010. People applying for passports will also no longer forced to have an ID card whether they want one or not, although their details will still be entered in to a central identity database. The government says the ID scheme will now cost £1bn less than originally planned. Plans to take iris scans of passport applicants have also been put on the back burner.
Why have the plans changed?
Public support for ID cards has been hit by the loss of 25 million personal details by HM Revenue and Customs. The government has placed less emphasis on compulsion – seen as essential by its original architects – and more on its supposed benefits. It wants take-up to “consumer led” – with people voluntarily signing up to it in large numbers before it is made compulsory.
Will it be compulsory to have an ID card?
Not initially. If Labour wins the next election it has said it will bring forward legislation for MPs to vote on to make them compulsory for all UK citizens over the age of 16, although Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said such a move also depends on the success of the voluntary scheme. It is not currently planned to make carrying ID cards compulsory. Both the Tories and the Lib Dems say they would scrap the scheme.
Why is the UK getting identity cards?
The government says it wants to give people a sure-fire way of proving they are who they say they are. It argues ID cards will boost national security, tackle identity fraud, prevent illegal working and improve border controls. Opponents say ID cards will be an infringement of civil liberties and a waste of money.
What information will be on the cards?
The card will contain basic identification information including a photograph of the card holder, along with their name, gender and date of birth. The Home Office says the card will not hold an address. A microchip will link to a biometric database holding a person’s fingerprints. Until March 2008 it seemed the biometrics would include iris or facial scans, but those plans appear to have been dropped.
Are the details stored centrally too?
No. Plans for a single database holding the personal information of all those issued with a card have been scrapped due to cost and data security concerns. Instead, information will be held on three existing, separate government databases. The whole scheme will be overseen by a new independent watchdog.
What won’t be stored?
The government has sought to allay some fears about ID cards by saying they will not store details about someone’s race, religion, sexuality, health, criminal record or political beliefs.
Did everyone in Parliament back the plans?
No. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are against the scheme and both say they would scrap it if they win power. The House of Lords also rejected the plans five times, before agreeing on the compromise deal allowing the initial opt-out from 2008.
What will happen when I apply for a passport?
From 2012, you will have to go to privately-run “biometric enrolment centres” to be fingerprinted and, in some cases, interviewed, when you apply for a passport. The new Identity and Passport Service will then carry out a “background check” on you to establish that you are who you say you are. Your details will then be entered in a national database and you will be issued with a passport and given the option of having an ID card.
How much will ID cards cost?
The initial fee for a standalone ID card, in 2009 and 2010, will be £30 or less, the government has said. But that may increase over time.
What about foreign nationals wanting to enter the UK?
From November 2008 they will have to apply for “biometric residence permits” or “biometric visas” and their details will be entered into the national identity database. The government also wants all foreign nationals living in the UK to have identity cards and will make anyone applying to extend their stay register biometric details, from November 2008. The aim is that 90% of foreign nationals in the UK will have ID cards by 2015.
What are the objections?
Critics say identity cards interfere with civil liberties, are too expensive and will do little to tackle problems like terrorism. There are fears the cards might cause friction among ethnic minority communities particularly affected by police stop and searches. And some are worried the cards would force illegal immigrants into avoiding contact with hospitals and police.
Do other countries have ID cards?
Several countries in the European Union now have some form of ID card, even if they are not compulsory. They have become widely accepted by their citizens. In France, for example, about 90% of the population carries one. But many other countries, like Japan, Australia and New Zealand, have not adopted the idea. Neither has the US, but it does intend to make visitors have cards to cover their visas.
Why did Britain get rid of ID cards after World War II?
During the WWII the ID card was seen as a way of protecting the nation from Nazi spies. But in 1952, Winston Churchill’s government scrapped the cards. The feeling was that in peacetime they simply were not needed. In fact they were thought to be hindering the work of the police, because so many people resented being asked to produce a card to prove their identity.