[JURIST] The British government began issuing identity cards [press release; program backgrounder] Monday to foreign nationals in an effort to curb immigration abuse and to strengthen identity protection. The cards, which are being issued pursuant to the Identity Cards Act 2006 [text and notes; JURIST report], are biometric and contain the cardholder's name, date of birth, nationality, fingerprints [BBC report] and reason for being in the UK. The program is currently voluntary and is focused on students and the partners of permanent UK residents, but the cards will eventually be mandatory, and the government hopes to card 90 percent of foreign nationals by 2015. UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith wrote [text] in a column in Tuesday's Telegraph:
ID cards for foreign nationals will bring real changes to how we control migration by locking foreign nationals to one identity – using fingerprints and facial images. Within three years everyone coming here from outside Europe for more than six months will be given a card showing they have the right to be here and work or study. The National Identity Scheme will deliver a secure and simple proof of ID for all those legally entitled to live and work in the UK – and the majority of people say they welcome identity cards and the benefits they will bring.
Other politicians and groups disagree. The Conservatives have said the cards will be expensive and ineffective, Liberal Democrats have called the cards expensive, intrusive, and ineffective, and rights group Liberty claims the cards violate freedoms and will waste government money [position websites].
The UK parliament approved approved the controversial Identity Cards Bill [JURIST news archive] in March 2006. The legislation had bounced back and forth [JURIST report] between both houses of parliament for months with the Lords objecting to a Commons provision to effectively make the cards mandatory by requiring ID registration for all British citizens applying for passports.