Sat, Jul 31, 2004 - Page 6 News List

British ID cards threaten liberties, committee says


Government plans to introduce the first national identity cards in Britain in more than half a century will help in the fight against terrorism but could threaten liberties, a committee of lawmakers said yesterday.

The Home Office wants to introduce high-tech ID cards bearing biometric data such as electronic fingerprints or iris scans and eventually make them compulsory for all Britons. It hopes to build a national database of biometric details in order to reduce fraud, identity theft, illegal immigration and deter terrorists.

The cards have alarmed civil rights campaigners who claim they infringe personal liberty while other critics say the plan is expensive and question its ability to curb terrorism.

The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee said in a report published yesterday that it accepted that the ID cards would help in the struggle against illegal activities.

But the panel of lawmakers said it was "extremely concerned" about plans to give Britain's intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 "nearly unfettered access" to the planned national database.

It said individuals should have the right to see the data held on them and know who has accessed that data.

The committee also expressed concern about the Home Office's refusal to publish full details of the finances behind the scheme. The government expects the system to cost ?3.1 billion (US$5.5 billion), but Home Secretary David Blunkett has said he can't give full financial details because of commercial sensitivities.

"This ID card scheme should go ahead but the government must take serious note of the criticism we make of the way the plan is being developed," said committee chairman John Denham, a Labour MP.

Blunkett plans to begin introducing the cards on a voluntary basis in 2007 with a decision on whether to make them compulsory around five years after that.

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