A Home Office minister has mooted turning UK driving licences into ID cards, sparking accusations the national biometric database will be forced in by the back door.
Speaking today at the Biometrics Conference 2008, identity minister Meg Hillier said there was "nothing to stop" drivers' licences or other documents from being designated to work as ID cards.
"In time it is possible to designate the driving licence or other documents to be counted as an ID card," she said.
Hillier told ZDNet.co.uk's sister site, silicon.com, that the designated licences or documents would contain the same biometrics and security as an ID card.
"There is nothing to stop us in law designating something else in the longer term, although there are no plans to do so up to 2012," she said.
Under the Identity Card Act 2006, the Home Secretary can "designate documents" that will require anybody applying for them to be placed on the National Identity Register (NIR), the backbone of the ID card scheme.
Each ID card, expected to cost £30, will contain a chip holding a scan of a person's face and two of their fingerprints, which can be checked against a facial scan and set of 10 fingerprints held on the NIR and used to verify a person's identity.
Hillier went on to say she expects take-up to eventually mirror that of passports, which stands at about 80 percent of the UK population.
She told the conference the cards are about "tying an individual to an ID" and that once this had taken place, having a card would simplify identification for proof of age, criminal records checks, bank loan applications, for employers and in a host of other scenarios.
Hillier's presentation at the conference showed ID cards also playing a part in accessing public services from 2015, with the minister showing a slide referencing maternity allowance, tax returns, TV licences and incapacity benefit.
Critics of the biometric cards claim it proves the government will push the cards onto the public by making it almost virtually impossible to opt out of the scheme in the UK.
Phil Booth, national co-ordinator for anti-ID cards pressure group NO2ID, said: "It is clearly a compulsory scheme if in order to continue driving, travelling abroad or get a loan you have to be registered on the scheme.
"It is coercion up to the point of compulsion."
Simon Davies, director of human rights group Privacy International, said: "It will bring almost the entire population into the scheme.
"The question is, will this just be the first of many databases to connect into the ID card system? There is the communication-data database that has funding already and even this proposed database of mobile-phone registrations."
Over the next three years the government will also consider other professions to join airport staff on its list of "critical workers", who will be legally required to have an ID card.
Hillier said the government is confident threats of legal action from the British Airline Pilots Association over the scheme will not delay the rollout to airport workers in 2009.