UK government ministers gave a vote of confidence to the technology underpinning its controversial ID card scheme, as proposals for the national scheme were reintroduced in Parliament on Wednesday. The scheme will link personal information such as names and addresses to biometrics - a computer scan of a person's iris, face or fingerprint. From 2008, UK passport applicants will also receive an identity card, under plans outlined in the government's ID Card Bill.
Junior Home Office minister Andy Burnham told reporters that biometric technology is already used in identity documents in countries such as Hong Kong, the Philippines and Belgium. These are much smaller deployments than envisaged in the UK, where government IT schemes have a famously patchy record.
Burnham acknowledged there had been problems in the past but said the phased introduction of the scheme, and support from the IT industry throughout the planning process, would help a smooth introduction. He said the technology is ready for widespread deployment.
Under the Identity Cards Bill, ID cards would be phased in from 2008 before been made compulsory at some later (as yet unspecified) date. The government estimates running costs will amount to £584m a year - or £93 per card, around 9 per cent up on November 2004 estimates of £85 per card. The government says 70 per cent of these costs will be spent to introduce biometric passports in any case, arguing now is the perfect time to introduce ID cards.
The reasons - and emphasis - behind "why we need ID cards" varies each time we visit the Home Office. This time around guarding against identity theft, a crime estimated to cost £1.3bn a year, was highlighted as the top reason ahead of strengthening immigration controls, guarding against the misuse of public services and (last year's number one) fighting organised crime and terrorism.
It's questionable whether ID cards can play any meaningful role in combating ID fraud but Burnham has sticking to his guns on this point. Banks would pay for verification services based on ID card technology that left customers less open to fraud, he said. ®
The Register arrived for press conference fashionably late and were further detained as reception by a Home Office security guard who demanded an NuJ card as identification. A passport, with a US-issued biometric visa inside, and a Register business card were not enough for our man. He called a press officer who arrived quickly and helpfully ushered us into the meeting.