Big Brother Technology

Electronic Identity Card

The Home Office is considering plans to spend an estimated £1.5 billion on ID cards – referred to as ‘entitlement cards’ in official circles - that incorporate biometric technology to verify the identity of the cardholder.

The initiative will fundamentally change the nature of government and the character of the nation.

This is inevitable because the modern ID card is no simple piece of plastic. It is the visible component of a web of interactive technology that fuses the most intimate characteristics of the individual with the machinery of state.

It is the means by which the powers of government will be streamlined and amplified. Almost every national ID card system introduced in the past 15 years has contained three components with the potential to devastate personal freedom and privacy.

First, each citizen is obliged to surrender a finger or retina print to a national database. This information is combined with other personal data such as race, age and residential status. A photograph completes the dossier.

Simon Davies in The Daily Telegraph, 29 October 2001

An issue facing the Muslim community is the application of this scheme to females who wear the veil and others who object being photographed.

The newly appointed Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has warned that the database underpinning any entitlement card should contain only the most basic personal details - names, addresses, dates of birth and National Insurance numbers may be acceptable but "if it starts to move on to hold more personal data that would be a matter for grave concern." He added that the amount of data collected on people had grown markedly with the advance of technology and Britain was in danger of becoming a "surveillance society". Apart from CCTV devices and speed cameras, there was widespread data sharing between various organisations and government departments of which many people were unaware.

IT industry specialists believe that government has seriously underestimated the cost of its plans for universal identity cards. A sophisticated smartcard system is likely to cost £2.6bn over 13 years from planning to full operation (the present system is £1.5 bn). The Director of the Institute for Applied Health and Social Policy, King's College, notes that "this is a vast project, with 67.5 million records and 314 million cards distributed over 10 years. It will interface with many thousands of local authority systems, healthcare systems, police and housing. The design of these interfaces and integration will be an enormous task".

(Sources:;,8150,862357,00.html;,1373,746744,00.html; Daily Telegraph, 8 January 2003; IT Week, 20 January 2003)