U.K. biometric ID cards bill shelved before election

Labor Party blames Conservatives for killing legislation

LONDON -- The U.K. government has pulled legislation pending in the Houses of Parliament for a national identity card program using biometric technology, but promised to quickly put the bill back on the national agenda should the Labor Party retain its ruling position after the May 6 general election.

The Identity Cards Bill has been highly controversial since it was introduced in Parliament last November, as a result of issues including its estimated $5.6 billion price tag and the readiness of the technology involved in the project. The legislation sought to create by 2010 a system of ID cards with embedded chips that carry personal information and biometric identifiers. The information would include each citizen's name and address and biometric information such as fingerprints, facial scans and iris scans, all of which would be included in a massive database called the National Identification Register.

In an interview broadcast yesterday by the British Broadcasting Corp., the bill's principal sponsor, Secretary of State for the Home Department Charles Clarke blamed the opposition Conservative Party for killing the legislation because of division within the party. Clarke was quick to add that the government still strongly believes in the need for biometric ID cards to aid in the fight against terrorism, identity fraud, illegal workers, illegal immigration and illegal use of government entitlement programs such as the National Health System.

"Labor's manifesto will confirm that the reintroduction of identity cards legislation will be an early priority after the election," Clarke said. Current polls have the Labor Party in the lead for winning the election.

A spokesman for the Conservative Party said that the party isn't against the bill in principle but has had serious concerns with the legislation in its current form.

The third major U.K. political party, the Liberal Democrats, has consistently opposed ID cards on civil liberties grounds and a spokesman said that should it win a majority in the upcoming election, the party wouldn't pursue the policy.

The U.K. government has already committed itself to the use of facial biometric identifiers in passports, and the U.K. Passport Service is expected to begin issuing passports with the new technology by December or January.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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