ID Cards Back On Agenda In Britain

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

London ( - An idea that has been batted around British political circles since 9/11 received new life over the weekend when a government minister said he would push for the introduction of compulsory identification cards for all U.K. residents.

Home Secretary David Blunkett, who is responsible for justice and immigration issues, said in an interview that the cards could be used to determine employment and welfare eligibility.

Blunkett told the BBC's flagship Sunday program Breakfast With Frost that the card would make sure that "people don't work if they are not entitled to work, they don't draw on services which are free in this country, including health, unless they are entitled to."

"I have to get people's trust in terms of security and counterterrorism, I have to get people's trust on asylum and immigration ... we need (to know) who's here, who they are," he said.

Blunkett said the card could include biometric information such as fingerprints or an iris scan.

In order to be placed on the upcoming legislative calendar, any ID card bill would have to be mentioned in the Queen's Speech, which this year is scheduled for Nov. 26.

Blunkett said that he was pushing for that to happen but that he had been engaged in "vigorous debate" with other members of the ruling Labor Party.

The home secretary said the card would be compulsory but that residents would not have to carry them around all the time.

When asked how many illegal workers were currently in Britain, Blunkett said the government had no idea.

"And the reason we haven't is because we don't have a rigorous and enforceable identification system linked to a register of all those who are in the country," he said.

Opposition to cards

Britain instituted an ID card system during World War II which lasted until a court ruling ended it in 1952.

Blunkett mentioned the idea of bringing back ID cards less than a week after 9/11 but did not include it in emergency anti-terror legislation introduced shortly after the attacks on New York and Washington.

The idea has consistently been opposed by the minority Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties along with civil liberties groups.

The Conservatives have called Blunkett's plans "half baked."

"If the card is compulsory, but you do not have to carry it, are we to expect that individuals will tamely turn up at a police station some days later to admit that they have not got one?" said Conservative home affairs spokesman Oliver Letwin.

Mark Littlewood, campaigns director for civil rights group Liberty, said that the introduction of ID cards would be "an insane and suicidal step" for the government and called on other ministers to stop the plan.

"The cabinet needs to rein in the home secretary," Littlewood said.

"The polling evidence makes plain that millions of British citizens would refuse point blank to carry a card," he said. "Criminalizing and potentially even imprisoning tens of thousands of people is not a smart of way of making friends and influencing people."

ID cards are common in Europe. In Germany, for instance, the cards are compulsory, while in France they are necessary in order for residents to access a range of services.

See previous stories:
Threats to Privacy Seen in Wake of Attacks (09/14/2001)
National ID Cards Still A Possibility, British Government Says (02/06/2002)

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