ID card timetable set out

The general British population will not be forced to apply for an ID card, the home secretary has said.

In an apparent softening of government policy on ID cards, Jacqui Smith has confirmed that the general population will not have to hold an ID card before the next general election.

Even then British nationals can avoid applying for a card if they apply for a biometric passport. From 2011 Britons will be expected to produce their biometric details when renewing their passports.

ID cards will still be rolled out to non-EU workers this year and extended to people working in “sensitive locations” from 2009.

This will include airport workers as well as potentially any one working with children.

Students will also be offered ID cards from 2010, with ministers hoping it will demonstrate their use when students attempt to set up bank accounts and apply for loans.

Previously it was assumed that government policy was for everyone to apply for an ID card alongside their passport from 2010.

But Gordon Brown hinted at an apparent U-turn earlier this year when he said ID cards would not necessarily be compulsory for the general population.

Ms Smith today denied claims the scheme was being quietly sidelined, insisting it was gaining momentum.

The Conservatives, who have campaigned against ID cards, said despite the alterations the “dangerous core” of the project remained.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said: “The National Identity Register, which will contain dozens of personal details of every adult in this country in one place, will be a severe threat to our security and a real target for criminals, hackers and terrorists.

“This is before you take the government’s legendary inability to handle people’s data securely into account”.

Critics claim the effectiveness and practicality of ID cards is far from proven, while they have worrying implications for civil liberties.

The government maintains they will help prevent identity theft and illegal immigration.

Ms Smith also moved to address the security concerns surrounding ID cards, given the government’s track record of handling sensitive data.

She insisted safeguards would be in place, including separate databases for biometric information, to protect people’s identities.