PM hints ID cards may not be compulsory

Planned identity cards may not be compulsory for British citizens, the prime minister said today.

Gordon Brown said compulsory ID cards remain “an option”, in an apparent softening of the assumption that the cards would eventually be mandatory for all Britons.

In his first monthly press conference of 2008, Mr Brown told reporters: “We have left ourselves open but we have not legislated for it.”

The ID card scheme comes into force this spring, when foreign nationals residing in Britain will be required to apply for a card.

This has always been trailed as the first stage of a national rollout. According to the Home Office website, “it is likely that ID card ownership will eventually be compulsory”.

Anti-ID card campaigners have further raised concerns that once ID cards come into use, people with have little choice but to apply for and carry one.

Mr Brown today reminded critics that parliament needs to approve any mandatory scheme – and gave little indication the government will aggressively pursue such a vote.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats remain opposed to the national ID card scheme, with many doubting the government’s claim that the project will improve national security and protect against identity theft.

But today the prime minister said people would see the argument in favour of ID cards over the next few months.

Amid criticism of the government’s competence at handling data, Mr Brown maintained the ID card scheme does not ask people for much more information than they need to supply when applying for a passport.

Further ID cards have the advantage that they can only be used with biometric verification, he added.