More ID card U-turns

The government will back down on more aspects of its ID cards scheme later today, in a speech to thinktank staff in London.

Home secretary Jacqui Smith will admit plans for all airport workers to be given the cards from 2009 will be replaced by trial schemes in two airports from this time next year.

Phil Booth, national coordinator of No2ID, said the Home Office was essentially dropping the target, but pushing forward with the trials to avoid embarrassment.

“Dropping to trials at a couple of airports is a transparent attempt to save ministerial face,” he said.

“Dropping the entire scheme, by comparison, would save only privacy, liberty, public money and long-term national embarrassment.”

Ms Smith said the card would safeguard against terrorist attacks.

“Protecting the public is a top priority for the government and identity cards, including those for critical workers, will bring increased protection against identity fraud, and help protect our communities against crime, illegal immigration and terrorism,” she said.

Liberty policy officer Isabella Sankay said: “As millions of British families worry about food and mortgages, five billion pounds for ID cards moves from the ridiculous to the obscene.

“We have seen the stirring images of Americans choosing to queue for hours to register their vote. Our home secretary prefers the chilling picture of Britons compelled to register their fingerprints.”

The move follows a back-down on requirement for foreign nationals to carry the cards. Previous targets for all foreign nationals to start carrying the cards have been downscaled to just 50,000 cards issued before April 2009.

“The Home Office knows the more people are reminded of the ID scheme the more they despise it,” Mr Booth said.

“Hence one more set-piece speech to a hand-picked audience on a busy news day. An open presentation to parliament or a press conference might ask questions or stimulate discussion. The Home Office wants compliance, not discussion.”

The Liberal Democrats took up that last point, indicating Ms Smith should have made the announcement to parliament.

“Jacqui Smith does not have the courage to make announcements on ID cards in parliament, where she can be cross-questioned, but instead prefers supine think-tank audiences,” said Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne.

“We are ordering a meal without knowing the prices on the menu, because no-one has yet estimated how much this grotesque intrusion into our hard-won liberties will ultimately cost.”

The Conservatives reiterated their objections to the scheme.

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: “We already know that ID cards will do nothing to improve our security but may make it worse. Now we see that the alredy susbstantial cost to the tax payer is going to increase.

“This is particulalrly outrageous given the current economic crisis.”

Questions remain as how the airports were chosen. British Air Transport Association (BATA), the trade association for UK-registered airlines said the plans are universally opposed.

Observers are also calling on the Home Office to say whether the workers enrolled on the scheme will be able to leave it if they stop working for the airport.

Non-EU students and marriage visa holders are the first people required to have identity cards from this month.