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A trial of technology underpinning the next generation of biometric passports could also be used to lay the groundwork for the introduction of identity cards in the UK.

Today's Guardian reports that the Home Office wants to complete a six-month trial of fingerprint and iris-scanning technology by next April. The pilot will also test public reaction.

A Home Office spokesman told The Register that this trial would test the "feasibility and cost" of the enrolment of biometric information for a new credit-card sized passport to be introduced in 2006. He said the Passport Service has paid for the pilot but conceded that information from the project could be applied to the development of a UK ID, or entitlement, card.

"The trial was tendered by the Passport Service but we are members of thte same government and share info on feasibility. This kind of programme does not indicate the inevitability of entitlement cards but if and when they are introduced we have to make sure they are delivered in a sensible way," he said.

The trial would involve a "representative sample" of around 10,000 Britons, he added.

According to The Guardian, the Government is expected to introduce a bill to introduce ID cards in the Queen's speech next November. Until then, the newspaper reasons, the Government can't openly test identity cards but it can test identical technology to be used in passports.

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, favours the introduction of ID cards to go alongside the debut of next generation of passports and driving licences containing biometric information. The Prime Minister is notably less keen.

The Home Office is not releasing details of the companies involved in the trials but they are expected to involve two companies, Schlumberger Sema and Northop Grumman Mission Systems Europe, possibly working together in a joint project, The Guardian says. Both firms are already well established names in the smart card industry. Northop Grumman runs the ID card scheme for the US military.

According to tendering documents, the companies involved in the trial would be expected to "test the capture of fingerprint and iris data" and work out how this information can be securely registered in a database, The Guardian reports. ®

Related stories

Smart cards, ID cards, nice, nasty, inevitable?
Blair shoots down UK ID card scheme
US names the day for biometric passports
UK ID scheme complex, costly, won't work, says expert
3G, security drive smart card sales

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