Compulsory biometric ID cards and a central database of all UK citizens could be created by 2010 under controversial legislation unveiled by the government in the Queen's speech on Wednesday.
As predicted, Home Secretary David Blunkett fought off opposition from some cabinet ministers opposed to the ID card scheme to get the draft "Identity Cards Bill" tabled for the next session of Parliament.
Underpinning the ID cards will be a central database storing information on all UK citizens, which can be used by public agencies including the police and NHS to check someone's identity.
The ID card will contain a piece of biometric information, most likely an iris or fingerprint scan, and will be combined with passports and driving licences, which will have a biometric element by 2008, according to the draft Bill.
The compulsory nature of the card, which will cost £35, will be decided in two phases. The government will have the power to mandate that an ID card is produced to use certain public services -- an element retained from Blunkett's original "entitlement" card plans.
More worrying for privacy campaigners is that the government will have the power after five years to make the carrying or production of ID cards compulsory.
As outlined previously by the Home Office it is estimated the basic system will cost £180m to set-up, finally rising to some £3bn.
David Blunkett said in a statement that ID cards will help "tackle the challenges of the 21st century" including terrorism, organised crime and illegal immigration.
"The draft Identity Cards Bill is about taking the difficult decisions now needed to prepare Britain for the future. It will set out our plans for an incremental approach to the introduction of a compulsory national identity cards scheme," he said.
Security company Ubizen, which worked on Belgium's electronic ID card scheme, said a biometric card will not tackle terrorism and crime. Bart Vansevenant, director of security strategy at Ubizen, argued the card could not stop international terrorists, who would probably enter the UK on a foreign passport anyway.
"You will not solve terrorism or immigration by introducing biometrics to a card. Why put biometrics on an ID card? It costs you a hell of a lot of money and there are equipment, support and administration problems," he said.
Vansevenant also questioned the need for a central database, as police and border control officers would be able to verify the biometric on the card to the person carrying it using an eye or fingerprint scanner. He said a central database will be a tempting target for hackers and that there should at best only be the need for a "blacklist" database of criminals and suspects to check biometric scans against.