The Home Office has made a formal request to parliament to increase the scope of ID cards for foreign nationals.
Under the proposed regulations, which are part of government plans, applicants under six categories for UK immigration will need to provide fingerprints and a photograph to be stored electronically on the card, the Home Office said on Thursday.
Until now, only students and foreign nationals applying to stay in the UK on the basis of marriage have been obliged to have the biometric cards. Now, those required to give their fingerprints to the police will include visitors representing overseas companies in the UK; those visiting for private medical treatment; domestic workers in private households; people with a Commonwealth passport; and people aged over 60 who are able to support themselves, plus their partners and children. At the moment, these groups need only to get a stamp or vignette in their passport.
Privacy campaigners questioned why these groups should be targeted by the authorities. Phil Booth, director of No2ID, said the government had "picked on" these people as they were "less able to defend themselves".
"They are a soft target," Booth told ZDNet UK. "The government has clearly picked on a group of people least likely to appeal. These people are coming to study and work, and contribute to our economy."
The government has consistently claimed that ID cards are necessary for national security. The Home Office on Thursday said that it considered these groups of foreign nationals a potential crime risk.
"ID cards help protect against identity fraud, illegal working and immigration, crime and terrorism, and those trying to abuse positions of trust," said a Home Office spokesperson. "Identity cards for foreign nationals give employers a simple, more secure way to prove a person's immigration status and eligibility to work in the UK."
Currently border control, the police and job centres do not have any card readers, despite government claims the cards will be used to check eligibility to live and work in the UK. The government has no timescale in place to roll out card readers, the spokesperson said.
"No-one can read the things," said Booth. "Current Home Office guidance is for people checking the cards to flick them to see if they're real. It's just farcical."
However, the Home Office said that police and border controllers could check fingerprints by scanning people's fingers on the spot. The spokesperson added that the biometric and personal details would be stored on the UK Borders Agency database, to be added to the National Identity Register when the permanent centralised database is set up.
The current National Identity Register is temporary. Technology contractor Thales won the four-year, £18m contract for the temporary database in August last year.