November 23, 2004 10:22 AM PST

Queen gives biometric ID cards the green light

Legislation for national identity cards and the setting-up of a British version of the FBI were the key planks of the Queen's Speech on Tuesday, which promised "security for all."

Both were widely expected to be included in the speech, which sets out the legislative agenda for the upcoming session of the U.K. Parliament. The speech is read by the Queen but written by the government, which will now push both pieces of legislation through Parliament before the next general election.

Speaking in the House of Lords, the Queen said: "My government recognizes that we live in a time of global uncertainty, with an increased threat from international terrorism and organized crime. Measures to extend opportunity will be accompanied by legislation to increase security for all."

The ID card scheme proposed by the Home Office entails the introduction by 2008 of a stand-alone ID card containing biometric information such as iris scans, fingerprints and a facial scan. The 15-pound ($28) card will be mandatory and will be issued alongside all new and renewed passports, the cost of which will also rise to 85 pounds ($159).

More significantly, the National Identity Register--a vast database of information on U.K. citizens--will be created to underpin the ID card scheme.

The government also formally announced its intention to introduce legislation to establish the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), which has been compared to the FBI. The U.K.'s computer crime squad, the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, will be one of the law enforcement agencies that will play a role in SOCA.

The $5.6 billion ID card scheme has sparked concern among technology industry experts about the pace and scale of such a high-profile and costly project, which would be the biggest IT project ever undertaken by the government.

Mark Blowers, a senior research director at the Butler Group, an analyst firm, said there are still significant questions about the rejection rates and read accuracy of some biometric technologies.

"There are still a number of issues which have the potential to derail (the government's) plans to tackle crime and terrorism," he said in a statement.

Andy McCue of Silicon.com reported from London.

 

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