ID cards ‘coming in through back door’

By Liz Stephens

Activists are reacting with outrage to the small print of the government’s supposed climb-down on ID cards, after it emerged that details of all passport applicants will be added to the national ID card database.

Any British citizen who applies for or renews their passport from 2011 would be automatically registered on the database under regulations to be approved by MPs in the next few weeks.

The regulations also include fines of up to £1,000 for those who fail to inform the authorities of a change of name or address within three months.

The decision to continue with the main elements of the ID scheme follows a review of the £4.9 billion project by home secretary Alan Johnson.

Although yesterday Mr Johnson said the cards would not be compulsory, critics say the passport register amounts to furtively introducing the system regardless.

Johnson announced yesterday that he had scrapped the mandatory requirement of the Critical Workers Identity Scheme (CWIC), which applied to airside workers at Manchester and London City airports.

Longer term plans to extend compulsory ID cards to other transport industries as a condition of employment were also abolished.

The home secretary emphasised his personal commitment to a voluntary scheme, saying it should be a personal choice for British citizens in the same vein as obtaining a passport.

However, this would mean the only way for ID card opponents to avoid being included on the databases would be to not apply for or renew their passport.

Thus critics of the scheme will effectively be unable to leave the country.

As about 80 per cent of the population currently hold a passport, the Identity and Passport Service believe that take-up of the “voluntary” scheme would be high.

Isabella Sankey, director of policy at the human rights group Liberty said: “The identity scheme will be compulsory in practice. However you spin it, big ears, four legs and a long trunk still make an elephant”.

“And this white elephant would be as costly to privacy and race equality as to our purses.”

A recent Freedom of Information request found the Home Office had already spent £20 million on the project.