by David Leppard
Ministers have been accused of trying to introduce compulsory identity cards through the back door, despite promises that people will not have to carry them.
Lawyers at Liberty, the civil liberties group, say that little noticed clauses in the draft immigration and citizenship bill introduce new powers to make people produce identity documents or face arrest. The bill is expected to be in the Queen’s speech next month.
At issue is a clause in the bill which says that anyone who is to be examined by an immigration officer “must produce a valid identity document if required to do so”. Failure to produce an identity card or otherwise prove identity will become a criminal offence. At present, producing a passport counts as proof of identity.
It had been thought the clauses applied only to people entering the UK at ports.
But Liberty says a separate clause in the bill extends powers of examination to new categories of people. They include anyone in the UK — whether a British citizen or not — who has ever left the country.
Isabella Sankey, Liberty’s policy officer, said: “Immigration law is being used as a cloak to introduce measures that would effectively compel us all to carry ID cards. Under these paranoid proposals if you have ever set foot outside the UK you could be required, at any time, to prove your identity and nationality.”
The Home Office disputed Liberty’s reading of the bill. A spokesman said: “The bill does not contain legislation that will require UK citizens to be issued with compulsory ID cards. It clearly states that valid identity documents must be produced on request to maintain effective immigration control.”
Launch of the ID cards scheme begins next week when marriage visa holders and non-European Union students will be the first recipients.
Airside workers at some airports will then be issued with cards — a move opposed by pilots’ unions and related groups.
The cards were proposed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America. Opponents say they are expensive, unnecessary and infringe on human rights.
Cards will carry a picture and security chip containing biometric data.