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Labour to launch ID card - and it'll cost you 25

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The Telegraph

Labour to launch ID card - and it'll cost you 25 By Colin Brown and Francis Elliott (Filed: 20/04/2003)

Everyone in Britain will have to pay around 25 for a compulsory identity card under proposals being put to the cabinet by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary.

The "smart" card will identify the holder using iris-recognition technology. Failure to carry the card will not be an offence but police will be able to order people to present it at a police station.

The charge is aimed at overcoming resistance to the scheme from the Treasury. Until now Cabinet support for a national compulsory identity card has been outweighed by the Treasury, which has objected to footing the estimated 1.6 billion bill.

While forcing people to pay for the card could add to the anticipated objections from human rights campaigners, Mr Blunkett believes that concern about national security is sufficient to ensure that individuals will be prepared to bear the cost.

Mr Blunkett is confident that he can win support for the idea of a compulsory card even though previous ministers have failed.

One Home Office official said that the threat of international terrorism following the September 11 attacks had tilted public opinion in favour of such a scheme. "The atmosphere has changed," he said.

Another official discounted any suggestion that the public would baulk at the cost. "We think that a charge of 25 to 30 would be reasonable for five years and once it is up and running and the initial cost is out of the way, you could then extend the life of the card for 10 years," he said.

Senior figures in the Cabinet strongly support the plan for the card, which would use a microchip to hold details including age, place of birth, home address and a personal number to identify the holder. It is also hoped that the card could be used to entitle the holder to a range of state benefits, thereby cutting benefit fraud.

Mr Blunkett discussed his plan for a national ID card with Tom Ridge, the head of the US Department of Homeland Security, at a meeting in Washington earlier this month. Mr Blunkett agreed to develop a joint programme, using the same technology, with the US, which has already agreed a similar protocol with Canada.

Iris recognition - so-called biometric information - is considered a more accurate and fraud-proof system than fingerprint or photo identification. The Home Office has already piloted the use of the technology. The UK Passport Office last year issued 500 passport cards with iris data.

In another move to tighten security, ministers are to ban the practice of sending out passports by ordinary mail after a Home Office audit found that some 3,000 are still being "lost in the post" each year.

Two years after The Telegraph first highlighted the problem of thousands of missing passports, the Home Office has admitted that 2,982 were lost in the post during 2002. The vast majority are stolen by criminal gangs and sold on to illegal immigrants or possibly terrorists.

Beverley Hughes, the immigration minister, has ordered that people applying for a passport must in future pay for them to be sent by recorded delivery, ensuring that someone has to sign for them on receipt.

The increased cost of this - up to 5 for each passport - would be borne by the applicant for the passport in increased fees.