U.K.: Foreigners and Certain Workers Will Get ID Cards Starting Next Year

By Matthew Harwood

Britain's Labour government announced that all foreigners outside the European Union entering the country will need a biometric identification card. Ordinary Britons will not be forced to carry the ID cards, but many critics argue the Brown government's new approach seeks to make life as inconvenient as possible without the cards.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the government will begin issuing cards to foreigners this November.

Australia's ABC News has more details:

From November, anyone staying for longer than the six-month tourist visa will have to sign up for the identity card, and that includes those currently living in the UK. By 2015, 90 per cent of foreigners will have ID cards.

The cards will use biometric technology linking personal information to digital photographs and fingerprints.

Along with foreigners, some Britons will need ID cards because of the nature of their work. Some professions labeled "positions of trust,"  reports the Guardian, will be given incentives to sign on to the ID card system "to get the 'critical mass' [Smith] needs for the controversial scheme." Other professions, however, will require a biometric ID card. Two hundred thousand airport workers will begin receiving the cards next year along with Olympic security staff in anticipation of the 2012 Olympics in London.

The government will also allow teenagers over the age of 16 to apply for the cards on a voluntary basis starting in 2010. Teenagers and young adults who do register for the cards will be able to fast track employment screening and will find it easier to enroll in classes, apply for student loans, and open bank accounts.

Smith also postponed by two years the requirement that all passport seekers submit biometric information to a national database in return for a passport. Originally scheduled to begin in 2009, biometric information will now be entered into the National Identity Register when Britons renew their passports in 2011, according to the Daily Mail and the Guardian.

The reports that Smith hopes Britons will sign up for the ID cards in droves during 2011-12, with the majority of Britons possessing them by 2017.

By making the ID cards voluntary, the home secretary said the change would cut £1 billion from the original plan's cost of £5.4 billion. But that depends on whether the individual or the taxpayer will bear the cost for the ID cards. A report commissioned by Gordon Brown recommended that the ID cards should be free to increase enrollment. The ID cards are expected to cost £30 and nearly £100 when combined with a passport.

Reaction to the new plan has been swift and fierce.

A London Times commentary today called ID cards the "ultimate identity theft" and argued that although the ID cards won't be required— which they were under the original plan—life will become too burdensome without one.

Even if the card is not compulsory, all financial systems will converge on it, and anyone without a card faces great cost and inconvenience. Just like Oyster cards on the London Underground, you're not forced, but it's so much more expensive and tiresome without one.

The Telegraph agrees.

The Government has switched to Plan B on ID cards. Having failed to convince the public that this unwanted, expensive and intrusive scheme is vital on grounds of national security, it is trying a different tack.

The idea now is to make them seem as desirable and essential as a credit card.

However, Reuters reports that the government's phase-in is attempting to cover as many Britons as possible before it decides whether or not to once again pursue compulsory ID cards.

Smith argues the ID cards will help prevent terrorism and identity theft, decrease illegal immigration, and make it easier to receive public services.

The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, both opposition parties, have already stated that if they can form a government after the next round of general elections, they will scrap the plan.



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