ID cards must be free for all
ID cards must be free for all
Opponents said that even if Sir James’s advice was taken, the public would still foot the bill as taxes would have to rise instead.
The debate came amid a new Home Office charm offensive criticised as the introduction of ID cards “by stealth” to persuade a sceptical public of the Government’s case for introducing the “Big Brother” scheme.
Jacqui Smith delayed by two years the point at which everybody applying for a passport will have to enter their fingerprints and personal data on to a new National Identity Register.
Significantly, this means that most people will not be forced into handing over their details until after the next General Election.
The Home Secretary instead opted to target smaller individual groups, starting with 200,000 airport workers in 2009.
They will have no option but to sign up for a card, and could be followed soon afterwards by millions of other public sector workers in sensitive posts.
These include power station workers, those employed on the Olympic site and teachers, nurses and care home workers.
In 2010, students will be encouraged to volunteer for the cards, with promises that having one will make it easier to open a bank account or get served in a pub.
Only by the end of 2011 or 2012 will passport applicants have to give their personal data.
Miss Smith said citizens would have a “choice” over whether to accept a card, or opt for a biometric passport or driving licence instead.
Ministers want a person’s fingerprints, scannable ids facial scan and biographical details on a central database, the National Identity Register.
The ID card, passport or driving licence are all capable of carrying the biometric chip needed to check this information, officials said.
Around 80 per cent of the population will be included by 2017. At that point, it could become compulsory to sign up.
Miss Smith told the Demos thinktank in London: “The way we are now approaching the scheme will lead to a significantly quicker take up of its benefits.
“One of the strengths of this choice is that now people will be able to get a card when they want, rather than wait until they renew their passport.”
Sir James, whose report into the future of ID cards was commissioned by Mr Brown while Chancellor, said nobody who opted for the card should have to pay.
The former HSBC boss said: “To engage consumers’ hearts and minds on the scale required, enrolment and any tokens should be provided free of charge.”
Sir James also warned against the current plan to include a digital image of the cardholder’s fingerprints on the microchip in each ID card.
Opponents poured scorn on both Sir James’s suggestion of free ID cards, and Miss Smith’s charm offensive.
Phil Booth of anti card group NO2ID said: “Sir James’s recommendation would hugely bump up the cost to the taxpayer.
“If they don’t charge you for the card, scannable ids the cost will get dumped in your taxes.”
The Tories said Miss Smith’s concession that people could opt to carry a passport rather than an ID card made little difference, as they would still be forced to enter their details on the National Identity Register.
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said the database would be a “sitting target” for terrorists, who would seek to hack into it and steal multiple identities.
He added: “The Government is contriving to implement, by spin and by stealth, its now utterly discredited plan for ID cards.
“The Home Secretary’s claim that she is offering people a choice is misleading identity cards will still be compulsory.
“Her suggestion that there won’t be a central database is pure spin personal details will still be clustered on a national identity register, a sitting target for criminal hackers and terrorists.
“The Government has lost the argument. They have lost 25million personal records. And they have lost the public’s trust. It’s time they ditched ID cards for good.”
Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said: “ID cards remain disastrous for our purses, privacy and race relations. A slow soft sell won’t change this thoroughly bad idea.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The Government is committed to keeping the costs of the scheme as low as possible, scannable ids and costs have already fallen by 1billion.