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By 2013 everyone over 16 will have to own ID card

London Guardian | May 26, 2005

The identity cards bill published yesterday will give the government the legal powers to set up the scheme and charge the fees it needs to recover the costs of enrolment, issuing and maintaining the cards and providing verification services.

ID cards are to be introduced on a staged basis. First it will become compulsory for foreign nationals to register under the scheme, then it will be voluntary for UK nationals to register when they renew their passports.

About 80% of the adult population have a passport and new applicants from next year will be given a biometric passport. From 2008 the 3-4 million who renew their passport each year will get a combined ID card/passport valid for 10 years.

It is expected that the scheme will become compulsory in 2013 when about 80% of those who have passports will have registered under the scheme. It is expected that only about 13% of the UK resident population will not have a passport by then and they will be issued with a standalone ID card. Foreign nationals, including those from inside the European Union, will also have to register.

Parliament will then vote before it becomes compulsory to have an ID card but not to carry it at all times. It may then become compulsory to have the card to access various public services.

Why now?

The government says that advances in technology mean it is possible to produce a far more secure scheme than in the past. Ministers say Britain must act now because the United States is specifying that visitors must hold a passport with an electronically scanned facial image included to remain within the visa waiver programme.

The EU has also decided that member states should issue passports with two biometric identifiers, such as electronic fingerprints and facial scans. Critics say this applies only to Schengen countries and the UK is specifically exempted. Only a minority of Britons visit the US every year.

How will the scheme work?

The ID card scheme is more than about just issuing a piece of plastic. The key element is the central database holding basic personal information on every citizen over 16, including name, date of birth and address. This data is linked to biometric information such as facial image, iris scan and electronic fingerprint to ensure security.

Enrolment

The government has already decided to set up 70 new passport offices to issue everyone with biometric passports. Everyone will have to apply in person. These will become ID enrolment centres with additional mobile centres for sparsely populated areas.

A new enrolment agency is to be set up and will be responsible for entering data for every UK resident over 16 who registers on the national database. Everybody will be issued with a unique national identity registration number.

Ministers have decided to set up a database from scratch because the existing national insurance and driving licence registers have too many fraudulent and incorrect entries to be of use. Forged ID cards will be useless if they are not backed by an entry on the register.

Foreign nationals

Foreign nationals, including those from other parts of the EU, who stay in Britain more than three months will be the first to register.

From 2007 foreigners from outside Europe will be issued with biometric visas at British consulates before they travel to the UK and it will be compulsory for them to register their details on the database.

The cost of this is not included in the current scheme and the power to do it is not included in the ID cards bill but under separate immigration rule changes. EU nationals will be issued with biometric residence permits at a date to be decided.

Asylum seekers are already issued with biometric application registration cards (ARCs).

Verification

A new system of readers and scanners will be needed in order to access the data held on the card's computer chip. The Home Office says it is not possible to establish the cost of these beyond the fact that they may be somewhere between £250 and £750 a machine. Officials hope that the network of 705,000 commercial chip and pin tills being installed could also become ID card readers when they are replaced and upgraded.

Telephone and online checks will also be possible for a wide variety of purposes against the information held on the database. The bill also gives powers to public sector organisations, such as the police, to access information on the database without the consent of the individual but new amendments to the bill limit direct access for private organisations.

Penalties and sanctions

A range of new criminal offences will be created to safeguard the security of the database. They include a £2,500 civil penalty for failing to register and £1,000 fines for failing to renew your card or notify a change of address or other details.

Costs

The overall costs of the scheme are difficult to establish as they are either like the start-up costs of the new enrolment offices hidden in the future passports budget, or subject to commercial confidentiality because estimates at this stage would be too helpful to potential bidders.

The original official estimate for a standalone identity card scheme was between £1.1bn and £3.1bn over 10 years. The official estimate of the annual running costs for a combined passport/ID card scheme published yesterday is £584m. This would represent a total cost over 10 years of £5.84bn but the government expects to raise a significant amount of money by charging employers and organisations for making checks against the register.

Ministers said yesterday that the £93 for an ID card mentioned in the documents accompanying the bill was the unit cost not the fee, which has yet to be set.

Benefits

The government says ID cards will help to cut identity theft which it is estimated to cost Britain £1.3bn a year. It will also provide a far more effective and secure way of proving identity to access public services, including those online, since it will contain an electronic signature.

This legislation will not make it compulsory to produce an ID card to access particular public services. That decision is to be taken later. It is estimated that ID cards could help curb £20-£50m a year of benefit fraud.

It could also help to tackle illegal migration and illegal working, so-called health tourism and could be an important tool in counter-terrorism work where people often shield themselves behind false identities.


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