25/09/2008

Foreign National ID Cards Unveiled

The design for a new controversial foreign national identity card has been unveiled today by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

The biometric card - which contains a picture, the individual's name and date of birth, nationality and immigration status - will be issued from November by the UK Border Agency.

A secure electronic chip will also hold their biometric details, including fingerprints, and a digital facial image.

From next year the card will also be given to people working in airports and other high security jobs, and under the new scheme from 2011 everyone under the age of 16 applying for a passport will be added to the national register.

It is initially going to be issued to non-EU students and resident-by-marriage visa holders.

The card will also detail the holder's visa status and right to work.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: "Today shows we are delivering on our commitment to introduce the National Identity Scheme in order that we can enjoy its benefits as quickly as possible.

"ID cards for foreign nationals will replace old-fashioned paper documents, make it easier for employers and sponsors to check entitlement to work and study, and for the UK Border Agency to verify someone's identity. This will provide identity protection to the many here legally who contribute to the prosperity of the UK, while helping prevent abuse."

Opponents to the scheme have criticised the cards as unnecessary and costly, and have raised concerns about the security of personal information, following recent government data loss gaffes.

"This week the Prime Minister said he doesn't do PR but clearly the Home Secretary wasn't listening," Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti said.

"The public will yawn at yet another relaunch of this scheme and if the card came with loyalty points, we still shouldn't buy it. Picking on foreigners first is divisive politics; as costly to our race relations as our purses."

Phil Booth from the campaign group NO2ID, also condemned the plans, saying: "No doubt the Home Secretary is relieved to be able to wave a plastic card and claim it for the ID scheme, given her department now spent over £100 million of public money; but this is still a cynical branding exercise.

"To suggest ID cards are somehow connected to immigration policy Jacqui Smith is deliberately engaging in populist bullying of the soft targets - anonymous individuals seeking marriage visas or education - those who have no choice but to keep quiet and comply.

"All resident foreigners is a different matter. When it comes round to fingerprinting Madonna and her family, say, such tactics will backfire."

Ministers, however, said the cards will be implemented to help tackle identity fraud, prevent illegal working and improve border controls, as well as boosting national security.

(JM)

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