Government under fire over ID cards

Summary:The home secretary's announcement that carrying an ID card will never be compulsory for British citizens has prompted many to question its future

The government has been critisised over its decision to press ahead with the national ID card scheme following home secretary Alan Johnson's announcement that carrying an ID card will never be compulsory for British citizens.

Plans to make ID cards compulsory for airside workers and pilots have also been dropped this week by the Home Office, with trials planned for Manchester and London City airports both scrapped.

The ID card scheme will remain compulsory for foreign nationals from outside the European Economic Area, however, and the home secretary has asked the UK Border Agency to review the rollout so far and identify how it could be accelerated. The UK Border Agency has now issued more than 50,000 ID cards to foreign nationals.

Johnson also announced yesterday the government still plans to roll the scheme out in Greater Manchester on a voluntary basis and will also extend it across the north-west region early in 2010.

The government's decision to keep the scheme on a voluntary basis for British citizens has prompted many to question its future.

The Conservative Party has already said it would scrap the ID card scheme if it wins the next general election, and shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, said the decision by the government not to make ID cards compulsory makes the scheme "even more of a white elephant", and that spending millions on a scheme such as this "makes no sense at all".

Grayling questioned the point of the scheme without the compulsory element, saying in a statement: "[The government has] spent millions on the scheme so far. The home secretary… thinks it has been a waste and wants to scrap it, but the prime minister won't let him. So we end up with an absurd fudge instead."

"This is a project that nobody wants and the nation can't afford," he added.

The Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary, Chris Huhne, said that the "expensive and intrusive plans should be ditched now" with the money being spent on something that could fight crime and terrorism such as more police on the street.

"This is another nail in the coffin for the government's illiberal ID cards policy, which will soon be so voluntary that only Home Office mandarins seeking promotion will have them," he said in a statement.

However, some feel that it remains unlikely that the current government will abandon the project completely.

Ian Angell, professor of information systems at the London School of Economics, told ZDNet UK's sister site, silicon.com: "This isn't a cancellation exercise, it's treading water. [The government] can't scrap it because too much credibility is tied up in it. This is trying to keep the whole thing alive at a minimum cost."

'Waste of time and money'
"One of these days they're going to wake up to the fact that it's a complete waste of time and money and they're going to have to cut back on every project in order to stop this country sliding into complete meltdown," he added.

While the government may have decided to drop the compulsory element of the scheme, it is still hoping to encourage UK citizens to sign up voluntarily by promoting potential uses of the card, such as for travel within Europe in place of a passport and confirming identity — for age verification, for example.

"The benefits are not just for individuals but also for communities where a reliable proof of age will be invaluable in the fight against underage drinking and young people trying to buy knives. But at the same time, these cards will benefit young people who, on average, have to prove their age more than twice as often as adults and I want to make that process simple and secure," home secretary Alan Johnson said on Tuesday.

But it seems retailers are not convinced about the value of the ID card scheme for age verification.

A British Retail Consortium (BRC) spokesman told silicon.com: "Retailers are thoroughly unconvinced of...

Topics: Security

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