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Home Office minister Liam Byrne told ITV1 television's The Sunday Edition that the Identity and Passport Service wanted to fingerprint all children over the age of 11 and keep their particulars on a database.

The reason, he said, is because it is currently possible get a 10 year passport without biometrics while a child and still be carrying it validly at age 17, the age at which a biometric passport would be issued to someone who applied afresh for their travel permit.

He did not say that it would be necessary to fingerprint children as young as eight, perhaps because an anti-biometric campaign has been building quite steadily against the idea of fingerprinting children below the age of 10.

Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary Nick Clegg said in a statement that it was a "sinister" plan.

"It is a measure of ministerial arrogance that plans are being laid to fingerprint children as young as 11 without having a public debate first," he said.

He suggested it would be a waste of public money.

A Home Office spokesman said it is bound by the rules of the European Schengen agreement, which Britain isn't signed up to, but has vowed to mirror, to introduce biometric fingerprints to British passports by 2009.

The spokesman said the Europeans hadn't decided on a minimum age for demanding that someone proffer their biometrics at border control.

However, the European Council pretty much already agreed last summer that children as young as 12 would be stored on Europe's fingerprint database.

But there are important reasons why the liberties of children ought to be overlooked, the government has implied. The spokesman said the British passport would become "a second class document" if it didn't have all the high-tech gadgetry our foreign cousins are sticking on their passports.

He told the programme that Britain would be defenceless against what he portrays as the threat of illegal immigration if it didn't make everyone carry identity cards.

He said much the same in the Commons last month: "It would render us defenceless in the war against illegal immigration."

Byrne didn't say what would happen to kids who didn't carry a passport.®

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