- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 24, 2004

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON — Britain will begin a pilot identification-card program tomorrow as part of the government’s plan to introduce compulsory ID cards for the first time since the 1950s.

Home Secretary David Blunkett has said that ID cards would help Britain combat terrorism and illegal immigration, pointing out that identity fraud costs the country more than $2.37 billion annually. But civil liberties groups have already expressed concern over privacy infringement.

Some 10,000 volunteers will be involved in the program to be run from the Passport Office in London and three other sites around Britain, the Home Office said.

The new ID cards will hold biometric details such as fingerprints, facial dimensions and an eye scan, as well as basic personal details. The 12-week trial will determine which is the better option for identifying the bearer of the card.

Compulsory ID papers for Britons were abolished in 1952 by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the face of mounting public hostility.

Mr. Blunkett announced the reintroduction plan in November and ministers tomorrow are due to set out details of plans for a nationwide identity database.

Under the plan, prison terms of up to 10 years will be introduced for identity fraud, the Home Office said. It estimates that false identities are used in more than a third of terrorism-related activities.

Advocacy groups have attacked the idea as ineffective and argue that a compulsory ID card would violate people’s privacy and rights.

“All the evidence from other European countries suggests that ID cards are expensive, ineffective and damage community relations,” according to the rights group Liberty.

In 2007, biometric identification will become compulsory for all new passports and driving licenses. By 2013, it is estimated that 80 percent of Britons will have the card or a combined driver’s license and passport, and the Home Office hopes to make the cards mandatory by 2014.

The government has said that the $5.5 billion cost of introducing the ID card would be offset by increasing the price of passports.

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