UK proposal for biometric ID card

By EDRi · April 23, 2003

The controversy in the UK around the introduction of an ‘entitlement card’
was stirred up again last week by the Home Office (the Ministry of Internal
Affairs for England and Wales). The Sunday Telegraph reported that Home
Secretary David Blunkett (the minister) intends to charge people 35 – 43
euros for the cards. Thus he hopes to win over the Treasury department who
balked at the estimated cost of 2.3 billion euros. Blunkett seems convinced
that people’s concerns over terrorism and immigration would mean that they
would not object to the cost of the card.

Another issue raised in the consultation was the type of identity
verification that would be used on the card. The Home office proposed the
use of iris scans while opponents believed that such a technology was not
sufficiently developed for large scale implementation and that people would
resist the idea of having their eyes scanned. Despite these concerns iris
recognition is still being considered.

Identity cards are seen as a highly contentious issue within the UK where
no scheme has existed since 1957. A conservative Government evaluated a
modern scheme in the mid 1990s but was unable to garner sufficient public
support as people’s privacy concerns outweighed the perceived advantages of
an identity card. Following the events of 11 September Blunkett revived the
initiative to combat terrorism, illegal immigration, benefit fraud and
identity theft.

In July 2002 the Home Office initiated a public consultation about
introducing an ‘entitlement card’. Up to the beginning of January 2003 the
Government had received 2000 responses to the consultation. It claimed that
these were broadly in favour of the scheme though critics argued that many
of these submissions were from companies hoping to benefit from the
implementation of a card system. During January 2003 civil rights groups
including and EDRI-member Privacy International raised the
profile of the debate within the mainstream press. This activity meant that
a further 5000 comments were submitted before the end of the consultation
exercise on 31 January. Many of these submissions are expected to be
critical of the Governments proposals. Concerns include ‘function creep’
with the card being required for more purposes over time, the vulnerability
of a central database, the likelihood of a card addressing the issues given
for its introduction and the cost of implementing such a large project.

Article in the Sunday Telegraph (20.04.2003)

UK Government consultation pages

Privacy International’s UK entitlement card pages

(Contribution by Matthew Postgate, FIPR)