Government Launches ID Cards In Manchester

The government has introduced the first batch of ID cards in Greater Manchester, but experts question whether it will be able to manage the ID cards database

Despite being flagged up as a future victim of public spending cuts and plans by the Tories to abandon the plan altogether, the government is pushing ahead with the controversial ID Card scheme.

In a statement this week, the government announced that the cards will be now be available to people who live and work in Greater Manchester and want to sign-up for the scheme. The government is asking people to sign-up for appointments to register for the £30 cards, which will be held from the end of this month, with the first cards expected to be issued around the same time.

“This is an exciting time. Today’s announcement is the final step towards issuing secure identity cards to the residents of Greater Manchester,” said Identity Minister Meg Hillier. “Identity cards will prove themselves extremely useful in daily life, from opening a bank account to entering a nightclub, and for travel to Europe.”

The ID Cards will be available to the rest of the UK by 2011/12, the Home Office has said.

But last month, the Tories announced plans to scrap the scheme if they win power at the next election. “We will scrap the ID cards scheme, and use some of the savings to build more prison places, provide more drug rehabilitation for those in custody and create a dedicated Border Police Force,” the Tories claim.

In particular, the Conservatives have questioned the government’s ability to manage large databases and the potential issues of up to 30 pieces of an individual’s personal information being stored in one location.

“The potential for another data loss disaster is huge – and that is why it’s vital that everyone who is opposed to ID cards joins our campaign today,” the Tories state.

In September, shadow justice secretary, Dominic Grieve said that government databases cost too much and erode people’s civil liberties. “As we have seen time and time again, over-reliance on the database state is a poor substitute for the human judgment and care essential to the delivery of front-line public services,” he said.

The Home Office has countered claims about the expense of the ID Card scheme by arguing that the devices will help combat identity fraud and forgery, which cost the UK economy around £1.2bn a year. It has also responded to concerns about database management and security with the appointment of Hillier. “An Identity Commissioner will be appointed before ID cards are introduced to oversee operation of the service and report annually on the uses to which ID cards are put and the confidentiality and integrity of information recorded in the National Identity Register,” the Home Office said in a statement in July.

Earlier this year, civil liberties organisation Liberty, said that support for ID Cards is waning amid concerns about how much information the government holds on citizens. The organisation cites the results of a Liberty-YouGov opinion poll released this week which it reveled that 68 percent of those polled thought that the Government has not presented a strong enough case for the cards or register to justify their costs. As much as 60 percent of those polled said they would probably or definitely not volunteer for an ID card, Liberty said.

“How many times can you re-design and re-launch this tired old policy? When will the Government realise that there is dwindling public support for a scheme that is as costly to our pockets as to our privacy and race relations. As a northerner myself, I have no idea of why the North West is being singled out for the dubious honour of being ID card guinea pigs. However I am delighted to say that this damning poll shows that northerners are as sceptical of this ID nonsense as the rest of Britain,” said Liberty’s campaigns’ coordinator Sabina Frediani.