ID cards

Identity (ID) cards were part of the National Identity Scheme proposed by the New Labour Government in 2005.

Under this scheme every adult applying for a passport after a certain date would have automatically had their personal information entered on to the National Identity Register (NIR) and could have opted to have an ID card which would have displayed certain information about them.

The NIR would have be the world’s biggest biometric database, holding at least 50 pieces of information on every adult who remained in the UK for longer than three months.

Liberty was opposed to the ID card scheme and the National Identity Register because it would have been:

  • Ineffective. There was no evidence to show that ID cards would have cut crime, in fact they could make things worse;
  • Unfair. It is likely that ID cards would have heightened existing inequalities;
  • Expensive. The Government estimated in November 2008 that the ID Card scheme would cost £5bn;
  • Intrusive. A huge amount of information would have been held on individuals, and shared with many agencies within the government.


Read our detailed case against ID cards.

When ID cards were first suggested the government had the support of 80% of the public. However, later polls indicated that public support dropped below 50%.

In June 2010 the Coalition Government announced that it was abolishing the ID card scheme and the NIR database that was due to sit behind it. The first Bill introduced in the House of Commons by the new Government was the Identity Documents Bill, which repealed the Identity Cards Act 2006.

ID cards for foreign nationals

As well as advocating ID cards for British citizens, the previous Government also legislated for compulsory ‘ID cards’ for foreign nationals. These were provided for in the UK Borders Act 2007. Provisions in that Act implemented a European Council Regulation requiring all non-EEA nationals to hold a stand-alone card containing biometric information.

While this legislation is not being repealed the new Government has changed the language used to describe the card – now referred to as a residency permit and not an ID card for foreign nationals.

This change in language is significant but Liberty still has concerns over the amount of sensitive information held on foreign nationals in the UK; who has access to this information and how long the information is held.