The House of Lords had repeatedly refused to pass a bill which would create compulsory national ID cards, but today they caved in and approved the measure. The ID cards will be biometric - they will use fingerprint, iris and face recognition technology. The government has claimed that they will serve as a crucial defence against illegal immigration, benefit fraud and terrorism.
Researchers at the London School of Economics have estimated that the cost of the biometric ID card scheme will be at least £10.6 billion, but could actually rise as high as £19.2 billion. At the median estimate, that would be £230 per card – costs to be borne by the taxpayers, of course.
In addition to costs, the LSE study also addressed the question of whether or not the ID card scheme would be legal. The short answer is no. Certain elements of the programme “potentially compromise” Articles 8 (privacy) and 14 (discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights. There is also a question as to whether requiring fingerprints as a pre-requisite for acquiring a passport (which is tied in with the ID card scheme) is allowed under UK law.
All in all, the scheme is a bad idea. It is thought that it will help prevent certain kinds of fraud and even have some benefit for the commercial sector, but it is highly questionable whether the scheme can do anything for illegal immigration or terrorism. And it can only cause problems for civil liberties.
Once the cards become compulsory, will it mean that the police will be allowed to stop people and demand that they show their ID cards? If so, it is certain that specific groups of people will be targeted.