Biometric passport trial – a Trojan horse for ID cards?

Out-Law News | 28 Aug 2003 | 12:00 am | 1 min. read

A pilot scheme for the next generation passport is to be run in an unnamed town very soon, according to a report in the Guardian yesterday. The passports will contain data representing fingerprints and iris scans. But human rights groups think the test is just a front – a convenient way to prepare for a biometric national ID card.

The plan for identity cards, or Entitlement Cards as the Home Office dubbed them, provoked outrage from civil liberties groups. Any attempt to test a biometric ID card – actually taking the prints and scans, and using them for identification purposes – would add fuel to the flames of controversy.

The Guardian observes that legislation would be required before a pilot of a national ID card scheme can go ahead – but no legislation is needed to test the new credit card-type passport, which just happens to use the same biometric information.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights organisation Liberty, told The Guardian: "This is without doubt the pilot for an identity card scheme. The real reason the government is going ahead with this pilot is because it wants to be seen to be 'doing something'."

The Home Office has denied that the trial relates to identity cards, and has confirmed that it is connected to the planned 2006 introduction of biometric passports throughout the European Union, reports the Guardian.

Biometric testing has also been used in visas for visitors to the UK. Pilots have been successfully carried out in Sri Lanka, and now biometric visas will be phased in for all visitors, the Home Office announced yesterday.

Home Secretary David Blunkett explained:

"Biometrics can play a big part in tackling illegal immigration and abuse of our asylum system and by embracing it we can reduce further the pull factor to the UK.

"Taking a biometric when we are dealing with a visa application will provide a much more secure way of confirming someone's identity, even if they deliberately try to mislead the authorities by destroying their documents. It will also make it easier to discover if someone is in this country illegally by over-staying their visa period and to remove those who do not have a right to be in this country."