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UK police demand hi-tech anti-terrorist measures

India Times | April 17, 2005

LONDON: Britain's top policeman called on Sunday for high-tech eye recognition technology to be pressed into use to track al Qaeda affiliates he said were targeting the country.

Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, also said he had been won over to the Labour government's call for compulsory ID cards in the week an Algerian man was convicted of a plot to launch chemical attacks in Britain.

"We have to ... know who people are. We now have the technology, I think through iris recognition, to go to that I think that would be very helpful," he told BBC Television.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's plan to introduce ID cards with details like facial dimensions, iris images and fingerprints has been criticised by rights groups on civil liberties grounds and experts who say the technology is unproven.

Police chief Blair also called for fresh legislation to enable British courts to convict people caught preparing acts of terrorism.

"There's real clarity now that al Qaeda affiliates are targeting Britain," he said.

"We're going to have to ... see whether there is some other legislation around, some 'acts preparatory to terrorism' or something of that nature."

Algerian Kamel Bourgass, a failed asylum seeker, was convicted on Wednesday of plotting an attack with the poison ricin and other chemicals and also of stabbing a policeman to death during the raid when he was captured. Eight other north Africans were cleared of any role in the plot.

The case became a political football ahead of a May 5 general election.

Conservative leader Michael Howard claimed Bourgass was only in the country because of the Labour government's chaotic asylum and immigration system.

Labour hit back on Sunday, accusing the Conservatives of blocking legislation to introduce compulsory ID cards.

"We will bring in ID cards if there is a Labour government re-elected as a matter of priority ... Will you, Mr Howard?" Health Secretary John Reid asked on GMTV. "If you can't say yes to that, you are not serious about fighting terrorism."

A raft of opinion polls on Sunday put Labour ahead of the Conservatives by a margin of 1 to 10 percentage points.

Even the lowest margin would give Blair a parliamentary majority of about 60 because of the way Britain's electoral map concentrates constituencies in Labour's urban strongholds.


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