Government ignores Web opposition over ID cards

The Home Office consulted about the introduction of identity cards, and thousands of Internet users opposed the idea. What happened next?

The government's decision to press on with the introduction of ID cards was taken despite opposition from Web users, whose opposing views have effectively been ignored.

Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, home secretary David Blunkett claimed that most of the public back the government's plan to bring in a national biometric identification card, and rubbished suggestions that the scheme was a threat to privacy.

"Let me make it clear: no one has anything to fear from being correctly identified, but everything to fear from having their identity stolen or misused. Focus groups and polling evidence demonstrate that there is around 80 percent support for identity cards," claimed Blunkett. "As the cost of secure identification will be necessary with or without ID cards, I believe that the proposals that I am setting out will win widespread support," the home secretary added.

While some polls have found evidence that the majority of people might welcome ID cards, the government has already admitted that there is significant opposition to their introduction from tech-aware members of society.

A consultation on the issue ended in January 2003, and after months of procrastinating the Home Office eventually revealed that nearly 5,000 people had registered their opposition to the introduction of ID cards -- or entitlement cards, as those in authority called them at the time.

This volume of negative responses was more then enough to tip the balance of the consultation against ID cards. The government then controversially took the decision to treat these opposing views as a mere petition, on the grounds that organisations such as and Privacy International had created Web pages that encouraged people to consider the issue and take part in the consultation.

Under the government's proposal, people renewing passports from 2007 will be issued with an ID card and will have to pay £77 at current prices -- compared to £42 today. A combined identity card and driving licence will also be available at a cost of £73 instead of the £38 charged now for driving licences alone.

Once ID cards have reached 80 percent penetration, the government says it will then decide if people will have to produce them in order to use public services.

Despite this softly-softly approach, civil rights advocates have been angered by the plans. Privacy International claims that Blunkett's scheme is unnecessary and "mathematically and technologically" impossible to achieve, and that the related security threats have been vastly understated.