By Emmeline Saunders
A voluntary national identity card scheme will be launched in Greater Manchester today designed to give young people “day-to-day convenience”.
Manchester residents over the age of 16 who hold a UK passport will be able to apply for the £30 biometric ID cards from November 30th.
Meg Hillier, a Home Office minister, said the cards would be particularly useful for students and young people who do not wish to take their passports on a night out.
Having a card would save the “cost and hassle” of getting into clubs and bars, she said.
“For a lot of young people… they often take their passports to prove their identity in nightclubs and bars and the Passport Service sweeps these up every week.
“So for a lot of people it’ll save the cost and hassle of taking your passport, risking losing it and instead you’ve got this very convenient little credit-sized card.
“I’ve got one and it’s very useful,” she added.
The biometric information will be stored on a database but “not a database that can be downloaded onto disks” which would only be used for “serious crime issues” or identity concerns at border controls.
Fingerprints and photos will be stored on one database and biographical information on another, linked together by a third. This information is already held by the Passport Service.
Ministers plan to launch the ID card nationwide in 2011 or 2012, but it will not be compulsory.
The government argues it will help combat identity fraud, terrorism and other crime.
Ms Hillier said the ID cards would also make it easier to pick up parcels at the post office.
Former shadow home secretary David Davis said: “The lack of confidence the government has in this scheme is evident by the fact that they have made no estimate of the take-up of this trial.
“This is hardly surprising when the minister believes it is only useful for getting into nightclubs and collecting parcels. This is a far from robust defence of one of their most expensive follies.”
Lib Dem shadow home secretary Chris Huhne said: “Where once we were told ID cards would fight terrorism, crime and illegal immigration, they are now being touted as a billion pound way of helping students get into bars.
“The discredited ID cards scheme should be scrapped immediately and ministers spared from having to come up with ever more preposterous ways to promote them.”
The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and civil rights campaigners argue ID cards are a waste of money and would not improve national security. Both opposition parties have promised to scrap ID cards if they win the election.
Phil Booth, of civil rights group NO2ID, expressed concern over the security of the ID card scheme. “Volunteer for a ‘£30’ ID card and as part of the package you get a government file for life. Once registered you have the obligation to keep a Whitehall database about you up-to-date, whatever it costs, forever,” he said.
The scheme is said to cost £5 billion, but the London School of Economics believes the figure to be between £10 billion and £20 billion.
In June this year the government dropped plans to make ID cards compulsory for 200,000 airport workers as critics said they would not improve existing security procedures.
Currently only some foreign nationals are obliged to hold a card.