British lawmakers debate biometric ID card proposal

British lawmakers opened debate yesterday on Prime Minister Tony Blair's controversial plan to implement an ambitious biometric national identification card system utilizing fingerprint, face and iris recognition systems.

The proposed ID Cards bill, which would introduce the documents by 2008, is intended to fight terrorism and identity theft, as well as reduce illegal immigration.

But critics say the scheme will be costly, intrusive and too complex with unproven technologies.

The British government estimates the cost of the ID documents at about $10.7 billion, while a study by the London School of Economics released June 27 pegged the cost as high as $35.4 billion. That amounts to roughly $314 per person, according to the study.

The ID documents would require card readers made by companies such as Sagem SA of France, Identix Inc. of Minnetonka, Minn., and Cogent Inc. of South Pasadena, Calif., according to a report by Bloomberg-U.K.

British lawmakers had an opportunity to vote following yesterday's reading of the bill in the House of Commons, but it must receive an additional reading and also win approval from the House of Lords before it can become law.

The ID cards would initially be voluntary, but critics believe they will eventually become compulsory.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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