Many countries already have some form of identity card. In some countries it is compulsory for residents or citizens over a certain age to carry one. The law which governs the use of ID cards in the UK came into force in March 2006. Since then the government has been working towards the final version of the ID card system.
Implementation of the ID card scheme has already been delayed by several years and the current emphasis is on the benefits to the individual of carrying an ID card rather than a system involving compulsion to carry a card.
What Information Will UK ID Cards Contain?
UK ID cards will be roughly the size of a credit card and will carry the photograph and name of the holder. Each card will have a unique Identity Registration Number. The card will also have a chip which will be encoded with biometric data – which may include fingerprints as well as facial and iris recognition data.
Prior to issuing an ID card the applicant’s “biographical footprint” will be checked against various national databases to verify their personal information.
Why Do We Need ID Cards in the UK?
Those in favour of ID cards say that they provide a secure way for individuals to prove who they are and to prevent identity theft. ID cards can also be used to provide evidence of an individual’s immigration status. Concerns about terrorism and illegal people trafficking are regularly raised in support of the introduction of ID cards.
ID cards should also facilitate travel around the EU and can be used as an easy way for people in a position of authority to identify themselves. The cards will also carry information about an individual’s entitlement to financial help from the state and it is believed that the ID card scheme will reduce benefit fraud.
What Are the Arguments Against ID Cards in the UK?
Many people in the UK have been resistant to the introduction of ID cards because they consider it to be an invasion of their privacy and are concerned about the use of data stored on the ID card. A recent spate of incidents of lost data involving government organisations has added to negative feeling about the security of ID cards.
Some also question the value of an ID card scheme if it is not made compulsory by law for everyone to carry a card.
ID Cards in Other Parts of the EU
Many EU countries already have ID cards but not all of those countries make it compulsory to carry one. EU countries where it is compulsory for citizens or residents to carry an ID card include Belgium, Germany, Holland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain.
Who Will be Eligible for a UK ID Card?
All British residents over the age of 16 will be eligible for ID cards. It is expected that the first ID cards will be issued to UK citizens from 2009 onwards. ID cards will initially be issued to UK citizens when they apply for a new or replacement passport. Eventually there will be a separate system for people to obtain an ID card without also applying for a passport.
It was initially expected that it would be made compulsory to carry an ID card but the relevant law has not yet been implemented. Indeed some political parties have said that they would abolish the scheme entirely if they came into power. The first cards will be issued to young people on a voluntary basis.
ID Cards For Foreign Nationals
One of the first steps towards widespread use of ID cards will be the introduction of ID cards for some foreign nationals. From November 2008 marriage visa holders and students from outside of the EU may be issued with ID cards. The biometric card will carry a photograph, a record of the holder’s fingerprint as well as information on their immigration status and their entitlement to benefits or help from public funds.
It is anticipated that 50,000 ID cards will have been issued to foreign nationals within the first five months. Over the next ten years ID cards will be introduced to foreign nationals in other immigration categories.