Survey gives thumbs-up to ID cards

UK citizens support ID cards, according to a report commissioned by the world's biggest smart card maker. Privacy activists are not convinced

Four out of five UK citizens are in favour of the introduction of entitlement cards, including the use of biometrics, according to a survey published on Thursday.

The research, which was conducted on behalf of technology company SchlumbergerSema -- which supports the introduction of entitlement cards -- saw 1,000 people interviewed by telephone between 17 and 19 January, 2003.

Of this sample, 60 percent said they strongly supported the introduction of the card, with a further 20 percent saying they supported it.

Fifty percent of the sample also said they favoured the use of iris recognition as a biometric check, with 30 percent preferring the use of fingerprints. SchlumbergerSema itself supports the use of iris photography as a biometric test, but some observers have claimed that such technology is neither cheap enough nor reliable enough at this stage.

Reasons cited for supporting entitlement cards included "were to address fraud", "to enhance control of illegal immigration", and -- in SchlumbergerSema's words -- "a general view that making it easier to identify individuals was a good thing."

According to SchlumbergerSema, the degree of acceptance towards entitlement cards showed little variation by social class, by age group or by extent of Internet usage, which the firm claimed "suggests a broad consensus spanning the so-called 'digital divide'."

The government launched a consultation into the issue of entitlement cards back in July 2002, and it is due to close on Friday. Supporters of entitlement cards claim they will reduce illegal immigration and identity fraud, and make it easier for citizens to access government services.

Opponents, though, say they are in effect universal identity cards, that the government won't keep the necessary database secure, and that such cards will fail to control either identity fraud or illegal immigration.

SchlumbergerSema's survey adds to the confusion over the public's level of acceptance about entitlement cards. In December, the government said it had received some 2,000 public responses to its consultation, running two to one in favour. Since then, privacy advocates have stepped up their campaigning against the idea, and Stand claims that almost 5,000 people have contacted the Home Office to oppose the scheme via the Stand Web site.

Privacy International has launched a scheme where people can call a telephone number to leave a message either in support or opposition of entitlement cards, which it will then convert to an audio file and forward to the government.

Privacy International director Simon Davies told ZDNet UK that at the end of last week this project had received around 700 calls, of which two-thirds were in opposition.

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