Government U-turn on £5bn ID cards

The government has effectively spelled the end of its plans to introduce a national identity card for all citizens, after announcing they will not be compulsory.

The news comes only three months after the Home Office signed £650 million deals with CSC and IBM, and weeks after the Conservative party contacted suppliers warning them it wanted to scrap the scheme.

A government call for people to voluntarily take up an ID card has produced only 3,500 responses.

The government was preparing to trial the cards for airport workers in Manchester, but has dropped the move after extensive opposition from unions. The cards have already been rolled out to non-British nationals and will remain compulsory for them.

Contracts with CSC and IBM still include extensive work on biometric passports, which are to share many of the back office systems.

New Home Secretary Alan Johnson is noticeably cooler on the ID card scheme that his predecessor Jacqui Smith.

Originally the plan was for ID cards to become compulsory as soon as 80 percent of the population owned one. A fortnight ago, it emerged the Home Officehad delayed the awarding of contracts to produce the cards.

After the government made it clear yesterday that the cards would not be compulsory,
Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling added that “the home secretary thinks it is a waste and wants to scrap it, but the prime minister won’t let him. So we end up with an absurd fudge instead.”

Anti-ID card campaigners reacted with glee to the news. Phil Booth of No2ID said it was a “humiliating climbdown”.

Announcing the change in policy, home secretary Alan Johnson said: “Holding an identity card should be a personal choice for British citizens – just as it now is to obtain a passport.”

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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