ID cards bill back on the table

The government claims there is popular support for identity cards, despite fears that they could actually increase the problem of identity theft

The UK government has reintroduced legislation paving the way for its biometric ID cards.

Any ID card project would be one of the largest IT projects initiated by the government, with Home Office estimates putting the cost at around £5.5bn, over 10 years.

The proposed legislation was dropped in the run up to the election but the bill is set to be reintroduced by Home Secretary Charles Clarke today.

The plans face opposition from the Liberal Democrats, while the Conservatives remain unconvinced. There has been speculation that the government may find it hard to push through its plans with its reduced majority following the election — but ministers insist the project has popular support.

Speaking in the House of Commons earlier this week, junior Home Office minister Andy Burnham said ID cards will give the public a "highly secure" way of protecting against identity theft which costs the UK economy £1.3bn a year.

He said support for identity cards was running at around 80 percent, and said much of that support is due to growing awareness of identity fraud.

"Early analysis of the scheme that is being developed has indicated that the benefits — including to the public sector in terms of cutting fraud and the improper use of services, and to the private sector in terms of cutting identity fraud — will, when the scheme is fully operational, outweigh its cost," he said in a debate.

A separate survey suggests the UK public appears to be grudgingly conceding that the government's ID card plan is the best way to prevent identity theft and protect against issues such as financial and electoral fraud, despite a vocal minority still opposed to the plans.

Research released earlier this week reveals 57 percent of those aged between 16 and 64 said the ID card is either their first or second preference for protecting their identity.

David Porter, head of security and risk at Detica, told ZDNet UK sister site the problem of electoral fraud is one issue which "throws the spotlight back onto ID cards" — most notably the problem of people voting in person with no required proof of identity.

But some critics warn that, rather than reducing identity theft, establishing a centralised identity database could actually increase the incidence of identity theft.