- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

LONDON — The British government said yesterday it wants to introduce mandatory identity cards to thwart illegal immigration, welfare fraud and terrorism.

Home Secretary David Blunkett said the government would introduce the plan after building a national database of biometric information using fingerprints, iris scans and facial recognition technology.

“An ID-card scheme will help tackle the crime and serious issues facing [Britain], particularly illegal working, immigration abuse, ID fraud, terrorism and organized crime,” Mr. Blunkett said. Implementation is years away, however.

“Using multiple identities is one of the most common practices of those involved in terrorist activity,” the Home Office said.

Eighty percent of British citizens should have some kind of identity card by 2013, Mr. Blunkett told Parliament. The card would not contain religious, political, marital or health information.

But the issue of identity cards has split Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government, with some ministers reportedly saying they are too expensive and threaten civil liberties.

Britain has not had compulsory identity cards for ordinary citizens since shortly after World War II. Such ID cards are mandatory in several Western European countries, including Belgium and Germany.

Mr. Blair has endorsed the idea in principle, but his office last week said it would take years to resolve the many complex issues surrounding the plan.

Britain already is working on upgrading passports to include chips containing biometric data, and the British Passport Service soon will begin a six-month biometric pilot to test face, iris and fingerprint capture and recognition technology, the Home Office said.

It said officials also planned to use biometric technology for driver’s licenses.

The information would be used to compile a national database, the Home Office added.

“I know some people believe there is a sinister motive behind the cards, that they will be part of a Big Brother state.

“This is wrong — only basic information will be held on the ID card database — such as your name, address, birthday and sex.”

European countries have been trying to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. Last month, the five biggest countries — Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — said they want to force airlines and other transportation companies to hand over passenger-list details.

Last year, Italy approved a bill that includes heavy penalties for illegal aliens who return after being deported from the country. The measure also established strict procedures for documenting legal “guest workers.”

Britain has attempted since 1993 to revamp its system for approving immigrants and applications for political asylum.

The Netherlands adopted a method for dealing with illegal immigrants that was so harsh that it prompted protests in detention centers.

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