Biometric identity cards Nov03

The European Commission has tabled two new draft Regulations requiring all visas and travel documents issued to non-EU nationals to contain biometric data in digital form that will uniquely identify the individual carrying the documents. This data will include a facial photograph and two fingerprints, but not the iris scan as the Commission still considers the US patented technology to be untried.


Anticipating these EU laws, Home Secretary David Blunkett wants all UK citizens eventually to hold a national identity card which may contain such biometric data. Although there is opposition among Blair's Cabinet and in Westminster due to the huge financial cost and potential infringement of personal liberty, Mr. Blunkett considers Identity Cards (ID) essential for Britain.


If unanimously adopted, the EU proposal will require member states to include photographs on visa and residence permits for non-EU nationals by 2005, and biometric data by 2007. The Commission accepts that such requirements will be expensive given that a microchip will need to be inserted into both ID cards and passports. Furthermore, all border posts throughout the EU will need to be equipped with sophisticated cameras, capable of digitally capturing a fingerprint, and scanning systems that can quickly process the contents of the microchip.


What has triggered the Commission in Brussels to propose such a security measure? In the wake of September 11, the US Government has adopted a wide range of security directives. From 2004, all EU passports that do not contain biometric data will no longer benefit from the visa waiver system which allows EU nationals admission to the US without prior authorisation or visa.


Currently, the 15 EU nations, each with their own ID cards and passports, have their own regulations on the necessity to carry such a document. These ID c! ards, valid at every national border within the EU, are difficult to verify and the task will become even worse when a further 10 nations join the EU in June 2004.


The UK has chosen to remain outside the Schengen Agreement in order to control its borders. It is currently faced with the entry of a large number of economic migrants, asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking causing severe problems for both our immigration service and local authorities. Documentation containing biometric data would allow our immigration officers to check the true identity of the traveller and deter those attempting entry with fake documents.


While controlled immigration based on selection of skills and regard for circumstances is desirable for UK's economic expansion, unlimited entry of foreigners, irrespective of race, colour and religion, will spread unnecessary social tension through our shires. It will threaten the position of immigrants who are already well established! and accepted by the host community in Britain. It will burden the local authorities and council taxpayers with the unmanageable additional cost of resources to cover education, health and housing.


 The EU needs to establish greater co-operation in combating the entry of illegal immigrants. The use of microchip based ID cards with biometric data, as well as installing the latest scanning technology at all EU borders to detect the entry of illegal immigrants, should be the basis of such EU co-operation. For the UK, a controlled immigration policy, supported by efficient border vigilance, will diminish the importance of extreme political parties, reassure the public, and preserve the fabric of our harmonious society.