Later this month, the United Kingdom's ruling Labour Party will hold its yearly conference, and will take up the issue of national identification cards through the British Identity Act 2006. The ID cards are a link to a National Identity Register (NIR), or national database, and is collectively called "The National Identity Scheme." According to the British Passport and Identity Service Web site, "The National Identity Scheme is an easy-to-use and extremely secure system of personal identification for adults living in the UK. Its cornerstone is the introduction of national ID cards for all UK residents over the age of 16." But the registry and cards have many British people worried about privacy, security and identity theft.

Technology and Security

The cards -- compulsory for British citizens -- will link to the NIR. The registry will include 49 pieces of personal information on every person, with the option to add more required information. Names, addresses, phone numbers, former residences and national insurance and passport numbers will be accompanied by biometric information including fingerprints, facial and iris scans.

The scheme was created, in part, to make it extremely difficult for terrorists to create false IDs. Each card/account will include security information -- such as a personal identification number (PIN), a password and/or personal questions and answers to validate the identity of the card holder and thwart unauthorized attempts to access personal information. Such security measures are not new; most people who have an e-mail address from a Web site (Webmail) such as Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail are familiar with these security protocols.

The primary function of the cards is identification. Each card will have a photo of the owner, so it can be used much as driver's licenses are in the United States. But in addition to use as a picture ID, the cards can be scanned, linking to the accompanying account in the NIR. The Identity Verification Service will allow banks, doctors, Royal Mail (Post Office), video/DVD renters, universities, and retailers of all kinds to verify the identity of the cardholder, as well as have access, in varying degrees, to personal information. The Home Office believes many other organizations will use the service, but any who wish to will have to be accredited.

The Home Office expects the increased security of the scheme will make identity theft much more difficult, especially with the inclusion of biometric data, and will act as a deterrent. But opponents believe that the use of one single card/number used at every ID check, and accessed by millions, will lead to problems similar to the situation the United States is having with Social Security Numbers and identity theft.

Another reason for the scheme, which Prime Minister Tony Blair brought up in an August press conference, is the approximately 430,000 illegal immigrants in Britain. Blair told the press that "if you want to track illegal migration and organized crime... you have got to have identity cards. Any other solution simply will not work." This is why all foreign nationals, including European Union members, who are in the UK for three months or more will also have to apply for an ID card. Then cards will be checked using the Identity Verification Service to verify the work/immigration status of a potential employee.

Totalitarianism Shift

Many have called the implementation of national ID

Gina M. Scott  |  Writer