Home secretary Alan Johnson said today that identity cards will only ever be compulsory for foreign workers.
Johnson confirmed that ID cards will always be voluntary for the British public, and said the government has ditched plans that would have required all airside workers to carry the cards as part of a pilot scheme before a nationwide implementation.
Long-standing critics of the government's plans said that the cards would be an attack on individual privacy, and were further evidence that Britain had become a surveillance state.
There were also concerns about whether the government could be trusted to hold so much personal data, in light of recent high-profile data loss scandals.
Michael Parker, a spokesman for the NO2ID protest group, said: "Successive home secretaries have spent years denying that the Identity Scheme is compulsory, choosing to ignore the fact that we would be required to sign away our personal details to the database if we wanted a passport, driving licence, job or benefits - a list that covers 100 per cent of the population. It is compulsory in all but name.
"Dropping the plan to force airport workers onto the database is wise; dropping the whole dangerous, expensive and wholly illiberal scheme altogether would be wiser still."
Johnson made the remarks today after urging an immediate review of the £6bn ID card scheme soon after he was promoted to his new position in prime minister Gordon Brown's latest reshuffle.
The home secretary reportedly said that he wanted a "first principles" rethink of the plan, which was announced after the September 2001 attacks in the US as a counter-terrorism measure.
According to reports, Johnson echoed his belief that the cards should not primarily be seen as a terrorist precaution, but as a way to stop people-trafficking, illegal working and anti-social behaviour by children.
However, voluntary rollouts, such as the one that has started in Manchester, will continue, according to Johnson, and will be speeded up. Residents in locations across the North West will be entitled to apply from early next year, he said.
The government will also be looking at options which could allow pensioners over the age of 75 to receive an ID card free of charge.
The home secretary asked the UK Border Agency to review its successful rollout of compulsory identity cards for foreign nations to see how the process can be accelerated.
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