What is the government proposing?

The government is proposing a 'universal' scheme, meaning that everybody would have to register, but claims this is different from a 'compulsory' scheme.The card would be underpinned by a population register, holding 'core information'and a new, 'unique personal number'.This could be linked to other databases.The cards themselves are likely to display 'biometric' identifiers, such as an iris scan.

What would it be used for?

The government wants passports and driving licences to become identity cards, with a special scheme for people who do not travel or drive.Cards could also be used to access public services, prove identity in banks or pubs, carry store card entitlements and act as travel passes.

What are the arguments in favour?

The Home Office admits an ID card would not cut crime - the police have problems catching criminals, not identifying them.Nor would it control terrorism - the 11 September hijackers all had ID. It says people might find carrying one card 'convenient', that a card could reduce identity theft and curb illegal working.

And what are the arguments against?

Liberty says cards would force citizens who are already entitled to services to prove this for no obvious benefit, while excluding vulnerable groups.The Foundation for Information Policy Research says ID cards would increase identity theft because of the huge amount of information held on them.

For the same reason, they would be a target for forgery.FIPR says it 'simply cannot understand'how cards would reduce illegal working, since employers are supposed to check National Insurance numbers, and those that do not are unlikely to check an ID card.

A card scheme would also carry significant technical risks.The government claims ID cards would cost£1.3bn.FIPR says cards could cost 10 times this and would lock the government into long-term contracts with near-monopoly IT providers.