First Controversial Biometric ID Cards Issued in U.K.

December 3, 2008 Updated: December 5, 2008

Immigrant workers and foreign students settling permanently in the country have become the first group forced to use the much-disputed biometric identity cards in the U.K.

The Home Office U.K. Borders Agency expects 90 percent of visa-holders from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to have an identity card by 2015.

“This will help keep our borders strong, and will provide additional protection against illegal immigration and illegal employment,” the Border Agency Web site says.

Between Nov. 25 and April 2009, 40–60,000 cards will be issued to the first group. These are mostly students, but also those with visas for work and marriage.

The Identity and Passport Service starts an 18 month trial with airside workers at Manchester and London City airports in late 2009. From 2012, the cards will be available to all U.K. citizens.

The scheme has come under heavy fire from civil liberties campaigners from the moment of conception.

The campaign group, No2ID say that David Blunkett, the previous home secretary “rushed out the ID cards bill in an attempt to wrong-foot nationwide opposition” in November 2004. They see ID cards as the tip of an iceberg, with the proposed National Identity Management System being the giant beneath the surface that will sink civil liberties.

The management system would see data-sharing and increased official discretion, which they believe will weaken the rule of law and damage privacy and confidentiality.

Public concern over ID cards has remained high due to increasing identity theft and several embarrassing incidents of loss of government electronic data bases.

A poll in October 2007 of over 2,000 British adults, found 6 out of 10 were in favor of the government’s National Identity Scheme (NIS). However, the survey was conducted a month before the news broke of the Revenue and Customs loss of personal details of 25 million child benefit claimants.

Most thought the NIS would benefit the fight against terrorism, crime, and fraud. But less than 30 percent thought the proposed benefits “very believable.” The poll was done for the Identity & Passport Office.