Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Blunkett Plays His ID Card in the North-East

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Blunkett Plays His ID Card in the North-East

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Linford

Thousands of people in the North-East are to be asked to carry identity cards as part of a huge Government experiment into how the controversial idea works in practice.

From next week, people in Newcastle and the surrounding areas will be asked to volunteer to take part in a pilot scheme to see if the idea is workable.

Volunteers will be able to go to Newcastle Register Office to get their fingerprints taken and irises scanned for incorporation in a personalised smart card unique to each individual.

But the move has already caused controversy, with Newcastle Central MP Jim Cousins questioning the choice of Newcastle and attacking the involvement of private companies in the pilot project.

And civil liberties campaigners questioned whether such a small trial would help set up a database for Britain's population of more than 60 million - especially in the wake of other high profile Government computer problems.

Home Secretary David Blunkett's Draft Bill, published yesterday, will put in place the legal framework for the introduction of compulsory ID cards by 2013.

Ministers estimate that, by then, 80pc of the public will already be carrying a voluntary card, which will serve as a passport and driving licence as well as a permit to obtain health care and benefits.

Mr Blunkett made clear that people who refused to carry ID cards - which could cost up to pounds 77 - would face a "civil fine" of up to pounds 2,500.

But he said he had decided not to make failure to register information a criminal offence, in order to avoid giving opponents the opportunity to become "martyrs".

In an interview with The Journal yesterday, Home Office minister Caroline Flint urged Tynesiders to take part in order to help shape how ID cards will eventually work.

She said: "The individuals who are going to be involved in this are going to be key to making sure we get this project right."

But Mr Cousins said: "I don't think Newcastle is an ideal place to pilot something like this. It has got a very youthful population which is quite transient.

"I don't think it's ideal, but it will give me an opportunity to see very closely how it works out. …

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