Published: 21/03/2002, Volume II2, No. 5797 Page 20

Home secretary David Blunkett has indicated that plans for a national identity card are still on the government's agenda.

In a parliamentary written answer on 5 February, Mr Blunkett said the government decided against an identity card scheme 'as part of our response to the events of 11 September'.

But plans for a 'universal entitlement card', carrying information about entitlement to NHS and other public services, are being pursued.A consultation paper could be published in 'the spring or early summer'.Mr Blunkett seems enthusiastic about entitlement cards, indicating the government believes they could 'help combat illegal working and reduce fraud against individuals, public services and the private sector'.

However, an identity card 'frequently asked questions' posted on the Home Office website says the consultation paper will present a balanced case and look at 'other measures' to improve the security of government-issued ID.

Since the issue was last aired, compulsory smart cards have been issued to asylum seekers.

The civil rights group Liberty condemned the idea of compulsory entitlement cards as 'unnecessary and ill-judged'.

'People already have countless ways to prove their identity. It may be wise to review the ease with which [these] can be forged, but this does not merit introducing a scheme that would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, ' said director of campaigns Mark Littlewood.

'Introducing entitlement cards would open the way to the creation of a national database.

Once such a scheme is in place, there must be a real threat that the system would become ever more Draconian.'

Simon Davies of Privacy International said individuals would have to surrender fingerprint or other biometric identifiers to the state and there would be an inevitable increase in police powers if the cards were introduced.

But 'the most significant element is that the card and its numbering system will permit the linking of information between all government departments', he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

'That is not a card, it is a national surveillance infrastructure.'