National ID card legislation survives UK Commons test

[JURIST Europe] The controversial Identity Cards Bill [official PDF text] narrowly passed its critical second reading in the British House of Commons Monday evening despite efforts by opposition parties and rebellious backbenchers from British Prime Minister Tony Blair's [official profile] own Labour Party to stop it. In two years, anyone applying for travel or immigration documents in the United Kingdom will be required to register for a national identification card [JURIST archive]. The cards will include biometric information that will also be kept in a central government database with the goal of combating terrorism and illegal immigration. Blair introduced the ID cards plan [JURIST report] last May; it was narrowly approved in the Commons [JURIST report] for the first time in June, but was blocked by the House of Lords [JURIST report] in January.

Blair missed Monday's vote himself as he was detained in South Africa after a mechanical problem on his return flight to the UK from a state visit to Johannesburg. An unfriendly amendment to make the cards voluntary was only just defeated by 31 votes. The linkage between travel and immigration documents and the cards falls short of making them compulsory for everyone [JURIST report], but it does ensure in practice that millions of Britons will hold them, and that the percentage of holders will increase over time. UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke has nonetheless said that the government will introduce further legislation to make them officially compulsory by 2011. Silicon.com has more.

UK Chancellor Gordon Brown [official profile], who is likely to succeed Blair and who was previously not known as a supporter of ID cards, used his security policy address [JURIST report] on security issues on Monday to advocate for the measure. Liberty UK [official website] and other British civil rights groups [No2ID campaign website] have denounced ID cards [press release] as both ineffective and a violation of civil liberties. Lord Carlile, the Liberal Democrat peer appointed by the British government as an independent reviewer of its anti-terror laws, said in January that the ID cards would be of "limited value" against terrorism [JURIST report] and would not have prevented the London bombings in July. National ID cards were last required in the UK during World War II to facilitate the identification of aliens, but they were judicially ruled unlawful in 1951. The new legislation approved by the Commons now goes back up to the House of Lords. The Guardian has local coverage.

Tatyana Margolin is an Associate Editor for JURIST Europe, reporting European legal news from a European perspective. She is based in the UK.

 

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