A pilot programme of the government's National Identity Scheme, which covers airside workers, will be compulsory at one of the two participating airports.
Airside workers will be forced to enrol onto the scheme at London City Airport, the Home Office announced officially on Thursday. The move comes despite repeated assurances from the Home Office that UK citizens will not be compelled to have an ID card or enter their biometric details onto the National Identity Register.
Richard Gooding, the chief executive of London City Airport, told ZDNet UK on Thursday that the cards would be compulsory for all workers.
"Our intention is that, working with the Home Office, all staff will be enrolled over an 18-month period," Gooding said. "We shall make it compulsory."
Gooding said UK airports already had compulsory biometric identification systems, but that they only work on an individual airport-by airport basis. He added that the compulsory ID card will now work at London City airport and at the other location in the pilot programme, Manchester Airport.
Geoff Muirhead, the group chief executive of the Manchester Airports Group, said that Manchester Airport also planned to make the cards compulsory, once it has had discussions with unions.
"For new workers and renewals, we expect the cards to be compulsory, but we need to talk to the unions," he told ZDNet UK. Muirhead added that the cost of the cards would be paid for by the Home Office, and acknowledged that ultimately, the tax-payer would pay the bill for the pilot scheme.
Anti-ID card campaigner Phil Booth told ZDNet UK that airside workers at the participating sites would have no choice but to enrol on a scheme in which their biometric details would be indefinitely held by the government on the National Identity Register.
"It's a pilot, and yet it's compulsory," Booth said. "These people will be in the National Identity Scheme for life, subject to a lifetime of surveillance. That's appalling. What are London City Airport doing?"
The British Air Transportation Association (Bata), a trade body that represents airlines, said that its members could "see no benefits" from participating in the scheme.
"It's clear we've been picked on as guinea pigs for the scheme," said Roger Wiltshire, secretary general of Bata. "We've yet to see any benefits. As far as our members are concerned, they have not been asked whether they would be happy to participate in the trial."
Wiltshire said airside workers "would not get the benefit of the voluntary approach" espoused for other citizens by the Home Office. "In some cases, staff will be forced to join the National Identity Register, which we don't see any security benefits from," he said.
Wiltshire added that trade bodies and unions had been included in a Home Office consultation about introducing ID cards for airside workers, but had not been consulted about the pilot scheme.
"[During the consultation], the Home Office heard a lot of negative comments, and they went away and thought," Wiltshire said. "They went very quiet, then found two airports that were willing to do the pilot scheme."
Michael Carrivick, chief executive of the board of airline representatives in the UK (Baruk), told ZDNet UK that airside workers had not been asked whether they wanted to participate in the trials, and that the Home Office had arranged the trials at Manchester and London City through "discrete discussions".
"At the moment, the arrangement is directly between the airports and the Home Office," Carruvick said. "We request that when the Home Office reviews the trials, it talks to airlines and ground handlers."