The UK government has admitted that it exaggerated the benefits of ID cards by claiming they would be a panacea for identity theft, benefit fraud and terrorism.
The frank admission was made by Home Office minister Tony McNulty at a private meeting with a left-wing think tank.
According to reports in today's newspapers, McNulty told the seminar: "Perhaps in the past the government, in its enthusiasm, oversold the advantages of identity cards. We did suggest, or at least implied, that they may well be a panacea for identity fraud, for benefit fraud, terrorism, entitlement and access to public services... Perhaps we ran away with our own enthusiasm."
McNulty refused to apologise for overselling the benefits of ID cards but admitted they won't wipe out identity theft or terrorism.
"It will help where fraud and abuse of identity is part of the equation. It will help in the development of some — but not all — strategies to combat identity fraud, serious crime and terrorism," he told the seminar.
McNulty also warned that the legislation to make the ID cards compulsory could end up in a deadlock if the House of Lords rejects it and sends it back to MPs. Under the ID cards bill, secondary legislation to make the cards compulsory has to be approved by both MPs and Lords.
The comments represent yet another change in tactics by the government and the Home Office in trying to combat falling public support for biometric ID cards. McNulty indicated the government would now emphasise the benefits to the individual rather than the state.
Phil Booth, national co-ordinator of the No2ID campaign group, told ZDNet UK sister site silicon.com the government has realised it is not going to be able to railroad the ID cards bill through parliament in the face of such concerted opposition from the public and MPs.
"It's a damning set of admissions and you don't often hear a government minister saying they have oversold something. They are trying to lift themselves out of the mire they have got themselves in but it is hard to conceive how they can justify going on with the bill after this," he said.
The ID cards scheme is also set to come under scrutiny from the National Audit Office as part of a drive by the Better Regulations Task Force to slash the amount of red tape and bureaucratic processes coming out of government departments, including the Home Office.