Asylum seekers in Croydon have become the first people in Britain to be issued with high-tech biometric cards by the Home Office.
The Application Registration Card (ARC) will contain the bearer's fingerprint, as well as their photograph, name, date of birth and nationality. The card will also contain a secure updatable chip for additional information such as the holder's address.
"By introducing the card, the government is at the forefront of making the most of up-to-date technology to combat fraud and to ensure that asylum seekers are identified rapidly at all stages of their application," said home office minister Lord Rooker.
The automated fingerprint technology has been in operation since December 2000, for the detection of multiple asylum applicants. All data held in the microchip will be protected by a software key escrow. In order to ensure the privacy of asylum seekers involved in the project, holders will be informed of the information that has been placed on the ARC, including anything stored on the chip.
The new card will replace the Standard Acknowledgement Letter that is currently issued to asylum seekers. "The paper document was too easy to forge, and was not durable," said a Home Office spokesperson. The government hopes that the ARC will reduce the scope for fraud through illegal benefits claims.
Croydon was selected as the first location to pilot the biometric cards owing to the large amount of in-country applications that it receives. A phased roll-out of the scheme to other locations is planned for the autumn.