The government has announced that it will drop plans to make ID cards compulsory for airside workers.
Pilots and other airside workers will not be forced to apply for or carry the cards, the Home Office said in a statement on Tuesday. As a result, a pilot scheme to issue workers with compulsory cards, which was planned for two airports, Manchester and London City, will not take place.
"The government has taken the decision to make identity cards voluntary for airside workers, planned initially at Manchester and London City airports," the Home Office said. "Airside workers will continue to be encouraged to obtain an identity card, which they can do for free, making it quicker and simpler for background checks to be carried out to verify an individual's identity as part of the airside pass-issuing process."
The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), which had campaigned against the compulsory cards on the grounds that security checks at airports are already stringent, welcomed the move. In a statement, Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan attributed the government's U-turn to the influence of home secretary Alan Johnson, who replaced Jacqui Smith at the beginning of the month.
"We have never seen the national ID card as an improvement to security, and we are glad that the new home secretary has listened to Balpa," said McAuslan. "This is a sensible change of approach, and one which we welcome."
Balpa had said it was considering taking legal action against the government if the Home Office continued with its plans to make ID cards compulsory for pilots.
The Home Office also announced on Tuesday that it would make ID cards free for pensioners aged over 75. A Home Office spokesperson told ZDNet UK that taxpayers would foot the bill for the cards. "[Making the cards free for the over-75s] will help people in particularly difficult economic times," said the spokesperson. "The funds will come from the Treasury."
Privacy campaigner Phil Booth, the director of the No2ID lobbying group, criticised the plan. "The Home Office will be dipping into public money in a spurious giveaway to pensioners," said Booth. "We're talking about direct tax funding. This is an identity tax."
Booth added that the government's backtracking shows the National Identity Scheme, which includes the issuing of ID cards, is in disarray.
ID cards do not enjoy much support politically, with the Scottish government writing to the home secretary to urge him to drop the scheme. The Conservatives have pledged to scrap the ID card scheme should they win the next general election. The Tories and Liberal Democrats are both opposed to ID cards.