The paper sets out practical options for an entitlement card. These include using existing photocard driving licences and UK passports to avoid duplication of existing documents. Such a scheme would not involve setting up a new organisation and systems from scratch, meaning instead that people who already held a passport or a driving licence would not need to have an extra form of identification. For those who hold neither, a new card would be available issued to the same standard of identity checks.
Proposals in the consultation paper include:
* a universal scheme where everyone would have to register and have a card but there would be no requirement to carry it;
* a voluntary scheme which people could opt-into;
* a scheme which could be targeted at particular groups, rather than the population as a whole;
* how a scheme might be enacted in legislation;
* whether there should be a unique personal number associated with each holder of an entitlement card and whether this should be a new or existing number (such as the National Insurance Number).
The consultation paper looks at the pros and cons of each of these proposals and different types of entitlement card scheme.
It seeks views on potential uses which include: more effective ways to access services; combating illegal immigration and illegal working more effectively; a convenient travel card in Europe; a proof of age card; a way of tackling identity fraud; a card to promote new ways of voting and a way of fostering citizenship.
Views will also be sought on important issues such as cost, privacy and duplication of existing documents.
A study on identity fraud carried out by the Cabinet Office was also published today. It assesses the scale and nature of the problem, which is estimated to cost the economy more than£1.3bn a year. It concludes that a combination of measures is needed to tackle the problem effectively; more secure processes for issuing documents used as evidence of ID; stronger checks of ID at point of use; and a more co-ordinated approach to detection and prosecution of ID fraud.
Home secretary David Blunkett said:
'I have made it clear that the introduction of an entitlement card would be a major step and that we will not proceed without consulting widely and considering all the views expressed very carefully. I want to see a far-reaching and meaningful public debate on the issue of entitlement cards, and a vigorous response from all parts of the community.
'Following the events of September 11th there was a call to introduce a type of 'identity card' system. We said we would not be giving a knee-jerk reaction in the wake of this terrorism and we have stuck to that.
'We want to hear first and foremost from the public on whether they feel an entitlement card would be useful to them and to which services they would want it to give access.
'The government's position is neutral and what direction we take in policy terms will be informed by the extensive consultation process we will be undertaking over the next six months.
'I am not going to disguise my own enthusiasm for an entitlement card system, but it is for the public to decide whether or not this is something they would see as useful and making their lives easier.
'Identity fraud currently costs the taxpayer over£1.3bn every year and there is no doubt that a secure universal card could play a part in reducing that bill. Equally, entitlement cards could be an important tool in cracking down on illegal immigration and illegal working, reducing the pull-factor to the UK to people trafficking gangs.
'As criminals become increasingly sophisticated at stealing or forging identities we have to position ourselves to respond, using biometrics and cutting edge technology as one way to defeat them.
'The government's final proposal will of course depend on the views of the people of the United Kingdom received during the course of this consultation.'
The entitlement card consultation paper seeks views on a range of issues including:
* Would an entitlement card assist in preventing clandestine presence in Britain, illegal working and avoiding the development of an underclass who are paid less than the minimum wage, have no access to rights and decent conditions at work and are therefore open to exploitation and pay no tax and National Insurance?
* Whether the existing checks before issuing passports and driving licences are sufficiently secure to combat the increasing sophistication of fraudsters?
* Whether biometric information such as fingerprints or iris images should be recorded - to prevent people establishing multiple false identities to defraud
* public services or to advance their involvement in major organised crime?
* Would an entitlement card system help to prevent identity fraud?
* Would service providers including local authorities find it useful to allow access to their services through a card system?
The consultation paper on entitlement cards has a six month consultation period. Responses to the document should be sent to the Home Office by 10 January 2003.
The document and the Cabinet Office report on identity fraud is available here.
Copies of all Home Office consultation papers are available here.