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Britain steps closer toward a biometric ID card

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Toward the end of 2009, the United Kingdom hopes to have a national identity card scheme up and running for citizens and residents. The personal information of millions of people will be included in a computer database, along with biometric details such as fingerprints and facial characteristics.

At the beginning, the new scheme will be voluntary from 2008. It will be developed and problems worked out as more people join. The government is estimating that approximately 60% will obtain the card during this phase.

Then by 2014 it is planned that it will be compulsory for people to own a card. One of the reasons for the card is that people will be required to present it when obtaining various services.

Documents were published by the Department for Work and Pensions under the Freedom of Information laws earlier this month. Some of the working assumptions are based upon analysis from late 2004, in which it is suggested that up to 30% will refuse to show their card or other biometric data. 10% are expected to confirm their identity by allowing biometric methods to be used.

Foreign national residency permits would account for about 3% of all identity cards. Both citizens and immigrants using social services will be required to have a card, which will also help confirm the immigration and visa status of people.

The current government maintains that the identity cards are necessary not only for security, but that they will up to halve identity fraud in the United Kingdom. Most foreign nationals living in Britain will have to carry a card, and the government has said it wants the cards to eventually become compulsory in order to fight terrorism and identity fraud.

Identity fraud from Income Support and Jobseekers Allowance funds is estimated to currently be approximately £50 million a year.

Additionally, earlier this year the government admitted that it intends for all fingerprints collected for ID cards to be cross-checked against prints collected from approximately 900,000 unsolved crimes.


The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives both oppose the identity card scheme, and many people have expressed concerns about the potential for abuse.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Jeremy Browne said: "A major failing of ID cards is that it will cost billions of pounds to coerce law-abiding people into providing their details while those with genuinely malign intentions will strive to avoid complying with the authorities."

Labour says ID cards will have a wide range of benefits and plans, if it wins the next election, to bring in new legislation to make it compulsory to own - but not necessarily carry - a card.

However, motives for pushing the scheme are being questioned. Among them at the end of last month the revelation of the Former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has reportedly taking a $60,000 per year position with a United States firm interested in producing the cards.

He resigned as Home Secretary in December 2004 after allegations surfaced that he'd improperly helped the Filipina nanny of his lover attempt to obtain a visa.

Blunkett was at the heart of the government strategy to develop the national card scheme and his new job is as the chair of the international advisory committee to Entrust, a Dallas-based company. Entrust claims it has hired Blunkett to do overseas work and that he will not be involved with any projects for the United Kingdom.

In 2005, Entrust was among several companies that won a contract to work on the Spanish national electronic identity card system.

There have been several conflicting reports on the exact timing of the scheme in the past several months. At least one source has published that all British passports holders must obtain an ID card for 2010. However, the government has not yet set a firm date.

This month, as the government begins setting up a network of offices to interview identity card applicants, a civil liberties group predicted that the government will aggressively pursue and fine people who have accidentally provided erroneous information for entry into the database.

Under the 2004 legislation that created the scheme, identity card holders are required to inform the government of any change in their details - if they move or get married, for example -- or face a civil penalty of $1,960.

Guy Herbert, the head of NO2ID, a group that opposes the cards, said Thursday he thinks the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) will continually check other government databases to discover possible errors.

As a result, someone who forgot to change their details or forgot to return the card of a deceased family member might face a hefty penalty.


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