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Cabinet stalls on ID cards, Blunkett says he'll win anyway

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UK Home Secretary David Blunkett is pushing ahead with ID cards anyway, despite his failure to win the support of the cabinet, and despite having his plans spiked by Tony Blair in July. Reporting to the home affairs committee yesterday his faith both in the cards and in ultimate triumph ("I shall rely on me to persuade them in the end" was chillingly undimmed.

Blunkett wanted a paving bill for the cards to go before the next parliamentary session, but the cabinet has postponed a decision on this until next month, and has told Blunkett to produce an implementation plan for a sub-committee. Which is clearly something less than a green light, even before Blair's earlier tooth-sucking on cost and complexity is taken into account. Blunkett however told the select committee that he is "working through the detailed consideration of the final presentation of the pros and cons of the technical, financial and administrative details," although as he's already decided he's going to persuade them he must surely have figured out the pros and cons to his own satisfaction already.

But he's probably right about his ultimate triumph. Warriors for freedom on the electronic frontier being somewhat thin on the ground in Blair cabinets, the current opposition will be almost entirely based on cost and fear of a giant IT screw-up. Blunkett himself conceded that governments hadn't been "terribly good at the development of IT, and said there were concerns over the capabilities of biometrics. But he also appears to be taking the position that a consultation on ID cards has been concluded; as this "consultation" was about something entirely different, words like 'black' and 'lie' spring to mind.

The incredible unstoppable ID card show has however, cabinet or no cabinet, already made considerable progress. Asylum-seekers are being issued with biometric ID, the Home Office kicks off a pilot scheme, testing fingerprint and eye-scanning technology, shortly, and a recent Home Office job ad for a communities policy group director general includes "develop and implement strategy on identity cards" among its duties.

Alongside this we have biometrics coming in on driving licences and passports, which takes us back a little towards the idea of piggybacking ID on these, as proposed in the original "entitlement card" scheme. If costs are shouldered and technical difficulties have been ironed out by these, ID cards will have a much smaller hill to climb in cabinet.

Blunkett is right to the extent that ID (not necessarily the same thing as ID cardsis inevitable, and that the joining up of databases is inevitable. That's what databases do, it's what they're for. Whether or not the cabinet decides to go ahead with a national ID card does not therefore make a material difference. ID systems from different agencies will happen anyway, and will be linked up, slowly and surely. And the longer the policy vacuum on the subject, the worse the result will be. Just not making a decision is no longer good enough - the government needs to consider how to control the process, rather than just letting its agencies impose it. ®

Related stories:
Smart cards, ID cards, nice, nasty, inevitable?
Want to visit Britain? Join the fingerprint queue
Blunkett to intro UK ID cards, via £25 passport tax

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