ID cards plan in crisis as the 'guinea pigs' revolt
Toby Helm, Whitehall editor The Observer, Sunday October 12 2008
Plans to build support for identity cards by introducing them among 'guinea pig' groups, such as airport staff and students, are in crisis after 10,000 airline pilots vowed to take legal action to block them and opposition swept through Britain's universities and councils.
In a move that could wreck the government's strategy for a phased introduction beginning next year, the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) said it would seek a judicial review rather than see its members forced to adopt ID cards at a time when pilots are already exhaustively vetted.
Balpa's vehement opposition is a hammer blow for the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, who had hoped to win the wider public over to ID cards by demonstrating that they were crucial to anti-terrorism policies. She intends to introduce them among groups 'who operate in positions of trust in our society'.
In a speech in March, Smith said: 'The first cards will be issued, from 2009, to groups where there is a compelling need for reassurance that someone is who they say they are.'
But Balpa, which represents more than 10,000 pilots working on 28 airlines, backed by the Trades Union Congress, insists that ID cards will 'do nothing' to enhance airport or flight security, and it fears that information about its members stored on a National Identity Register could be abused.
Jim McAuslan, general secretary of Balpa, told The Observer: 'Our members are incensed by the way they have been targeted as guinea pigs in a project which will not improve security. We will leave no stone unturned in our attempts to prevent this, including legal action to force a judicial review if necessary.'
From late 2010 ministers intend to start issuing ID cards to 'young people', particularly students, on a voluntary basis in a further attempt to win the population round. Then around 2012 everyone applying for a passport will have to be on the National Identity Register.
However, the anti-ID card campaign group, NO2ID, is mobilising what it says is 'a wave of student opposition' to ID cards on campuses across the country.
More than 40 local authorities, as well as the Scottish parliament and the Welsh and London assemblies, have passed motions opposing ID cards. Without the co-operation of councils, which would use ID cards to verify benefit claimants and those wanting to use public services, the entire project would fail to get off the ground.
Home Office officials insist that the plans remain on track. Ministers say ID cards, expected to cost around £100 a head, cannot be introduced on a compulsory basis without a further vote in parliament.