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Biometric harvest network can handle just 700k a year

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Home Sec Alan Johnson gave another insight into how big a trickle of applications for ID cards the government expects when he revealed the full extent of its biometric enrolment network yesterday.

Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling had asked "how many biometric enrolment centres are in operation; where they are located; how many applications they are expected to process in the next 12 months; and how many people they could each process and provide with identity cards each year if working at maximum capacity".

Johnson revealed the government had 34 "biometric enrolment offices" across the UK, ranging from Aberdeen in the North to Brighton in the South. Our geography is a little flakey, and it looks like the most westerly mainland centre is Cardiff - there's also one in Belfast - while the easternmost outpost appears to be London City Airport.

At least nine of these are in London. (There's one in Stamford but no indication as to which Stamford.) Manchester - the centre of the current ID card pilot scheme - has two centres, while there are another two in Liverpool and one in Blackburn.

The total capacity of this dab and snap network is 650,000 to 700,000 a year, Johnson said. Which is not a whole lot of ID cards in a population of just over 61 million. Ten years on, and without a dramatic boost in capacity, we'd still be at just seven million Brits in the ID database.

Except that this network is in effect the one which covers the biometric requirements for foreign nationals on behalf of the Border Agency. Which would explain why they are concentrated in immigration hotspots like London.

So, if a large part of the population suddenly decided it had to have an ID card so it could go to Europe or to the pub, they'd better be ready to queue.

The Post Office is tendering to offer biometric harvesting for the government, and Johnson has previously said the government has other options on how to extend its biometric network.

But no decisions are likely before the election, which is due to take place... any time now, after which a "new administration" will have to decide exactly how far and fast it wants to push the ID card/National ID register scheme. Or not. ®

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