Non-EU citizen in Britain? You’ll need an ID card

March 6th, 2008 - 7:10 pm ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, March 6 (IANS) Non-European Union citizens living in Britain will have to carry around biometric identity cards from this year, the British government announced Thursday. The scheme to initially involve citizens from outside the 27-nation EU region is part of a government rethink of a controversial project to introduce compulsory identity cards for everyone living in Britain.

Aimed at stopping the misuse of Britain’s free health and benefits systems by illegal immigrants and combating terrorism, the scheme had to be taken off the shelf after strong criticism from opposition parties and civil liberties groups.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said Thursday the scheme will still need approval of the parliament.

“Increasingly, we need to be able to prove our identity in a whole range of ways - when we’re travelling, when we’re opening a bank account or accessing government services,” Smith said.

“We’re all better protected if we can be confident that other people are who they say they are,” she added.

According to a timetable for compulsory ID cards set out by her, non-EU citizens will be followed by airport baggage handlers and people in other sensitive security jobs, who will be issued these cards next year.

Students will be included in 2010 and all citizens renewing their passports will be brought into the fold from 2011.

Moves by the Labour government to introduce ID cards on grounds of fighting terrorism and illegal immigration have been controversial, with critics claiming it is too expensive at a cost of nearly 5.5 billion pounds over 10 years.

They also say the scheme, which envisages the creation of a National Register, threatens civil liberties and may be misused.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said: “It is inconceivable that these (airport) workers would not already have full ID verification.

“Therefore the question has to be, will this add to airport security or is it a way of getting the British public used to an ID card by stealth - despite an explicit promise from a former home secretary that this programme would not be rolled out in a compulsory fashion without a vote in the House of Commons.”

Smith admitted: “While there are big advantages to making ID cards as widespread as possible, we need to be clear there is public acceptance.

“We need to be clear that the technology is there and, of course, Parliament would have the final decision as to whether or not, and when, entry on the identity register became compulsory.”

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