Britain has begun testing a national identification card that authorities say
should reduce the threat of terrorism and other criminal activities
The last time the British government ordered its citizens to carry identity
cards was during World War II, and the Home Office says it is time to revive
the practice because of the war on terrorism.
Home Secretary David Blunkett published draft legislation that could lead
to compulsory identity cards by 2013.
Under a pilot program also launched Monday, 10,000 volunteers will test the
technology and receive cards measuring their facial dimensions, iris images,
Mr. Blunkett says identity cards are needed to help authorities fight several
21 century criminal and social problems.
"There has been a dramatic shift, not simply because we have the 11 of September
2001, and the new international network terrorist threat under al-Qaida, but
actually because we have also seen a massive growth in organized fraud," he
said. "We have seen a very large move in people across boundaries and the flood
of people coming into Europe and to the United Kingdom, some claiming asylum,
some clandestine workers."
Critics of the plan say criminals will find a way to defeat the technology,
while law-abiding citizens face the threat of increased government intrusion
in their personal lives.
"The government's really going to have to make a much more detailed case
as to how this card is going to be a panacea for all ills from terrorism to
benefit fraud and illegal immigration. This costs a lot of money, and also
has personal and social costs," said Shami Chakravorty, a spokeswoman for Liberty,
a British civil-liberties group.
A poll published last week said four out of five Britons support the concept
of identity cards, though fewer than one in five believe they will help combat