British life 'unthinkable' without ID cards

Home Office minister Liam Byrne has described the National ID Scheme as an 'essential defence' that will become a British institution

The National Identity Scheme will be essential in combating the challenges presented by the revolution in technology and mobility, according to a government minister.

Speaking at a conference at Chatham House, Home Office minister Liam Byrne said the National ID scheme will be a "21st century public good" and become part of everyday life.

Byrne explained that technology and increased mobility of people and finance have created new challenges and risks for UK citizens, which the ID scheme will address. The government said the system is an "essential defence" and an everyday part of life.

As well as these issues, a huge amount of personal information is now in the hands of private companies, potentially creating risks to borders, communities and individuals.

Byrne said: "Unless we invest in identity systems we leave our borders and our economy open to abuse, we leave individuals defenceless against fraud and we risk leaving the benefits safety nets we've worked so hard for vulnerable to attack."

Byrne added that the national ID system will become as much a part of the fabric of public life as the railways in the 19th century or the national grid in the 20th century.

He described the system as "another great British institution without which modern life, whatever it looks like in 2020, would be quite unthinkable".

The minister also highlighted evidence of a growing risk in ID fraud in the UK discovered through the government's biometric visa project.

Since the technology was rolled out, more than 4,000 visa applicants have been found to be withholding information regarding a previous immigration matter, 70 percent of whom were caught out by previously collected fingerprint data.

Byrne outlined several trials, including a joint Identity and Passport Service/Criminal Records Bureau pilot to demonstrate how background checks can be carried out more quickly and securely.

There are also plans for an Employers' Checking Service pilot to quickly find out if people have the right to work in the UK.

Byrne said further pilots are in the pipeline involving the Department of Work and Pensions and Government Gateway.