Representatives of the aviation industry have said they are being used as political pawns to further the government's ID cards programme.
The British Air Transport Association (Bata) said aviation workers were being used as guinea pigs for the scheme. ID cards for 'airside' workers — those who work beyond airport security checks — will become compulsory in 2009.
"We do feel we're being used politically," Roger Wiltshire, secretary general of Bata told ZDNet.co.uk on Friday. "The government intends a creeping introduction, to [lend the cards credibility]. We will be the first industry to have compulsory ID passes, even before the voluntary scheme is in place."
Wiltshire's comments follow a Bata letter of protest sent to the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, this week, signed by the chief executives of British Airways, BMI, EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic.
The letter lambasted the government over ID card security issues, saying that "first and foremost, no additional security benefits have been identified". Wiltshire said that Bata did not feel that the scheme would enhance security at all. "The current process for vetting staff is incredibly rigorous, and includes a criminal-records check. ID cards will not add value."
However, James Hall, chief executive of the Identity and Passport Service, maintained that the cards would enhance airport security. "We think ID cards can be a sensible enhancement of pre-employment checking," Hall told ZDNet.co.uk. "We understand that the industry has concerns."
Shadow security minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones criticised the government for its "creeping" introduction of ID cards. "I would not approve of any creeping means of introducing a national ID card by the back door," she said.
Campaigners against ID cards told ZDNet.co.uk that the idea the cards would enhance security was "crazy".
"The vetting of people with secure airside access will go way beyond the ID card checks," said Phil Booth, national co-ordinator of No2ID. "One assumes people would be checked on police databases. To try to say ID cards would be more secure is crazy. If the government hasn't been able to convince the air industry that ID cards will bring security benefits, then what the hell are the things for?"