The design of the UK’s new identity card – to be issued from November, initially to foreign nationals – was revealed by the home secretary yesterday.
Brandishing an example of the baby pink and pale blue polycarbonate document, Jacqui Smith promised it would combat identity theft, help prevent illegal immigration and enable people to prove their identity more easily.
More than 50,000 cards are expected to be handed out to foreign nationals from outside Europe between November and March as they extend their visas and register marriages or civil partnerships.
From next year ID cards will be given first to those in security-sensitive roles and by 2010 the aim will be to encourage young people to enrol. They will not be compulsory for the general population.
The size of a credit card, each ID card bears a digital image of the holder, their name, the place and date of the card’s issue, a signature and a unique identity number. For foreign nationals there is also a “type of permit” section showing the person’s visa category as well as a “valid until” date showing how long the holder has permission to stay in the UK.
On the reverse, the card carries an electronic chip recording biometric details including fingerprints. The holder’s gender, date and place of birth and nationality are recorded above a section entitled Remarks that lists entitlements.
One embedded background symbol is a royal crest, rather than the union flag; the other is a bull meant to depict the form the Greek god Zeus took when he abducted Europa – a nod to the EU.
There are numerous security features, incorporating raised numbers, optically variable ink which changes colour as the cards is tilted and a raised plant stem from which the UK’s national flowers – rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock – grow. The final design of the ID card for UK citizens will be broadly similar but is likely to be in a different colour, may not have the EU bull motif and will dispense with several of the information categories specific to foreign nationals.
Explaining the absence of the union flag, Smith said that no other ID card in the EU carried the design of a national flag. She did not expect that airport workers would refuse to accept ID cards and therefore lose their jobs.
David Davis, the former shadow home secretary who resigned over what he alleged was the creation of a “database state”, said: “It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”
Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, said ID cards would “prove to be a laminated poll tax”.