The UK government is to consult with IT suppliers and privacy groups over plans to issue a national ID card.
Home Secretary David Blunkett told parliament that the "universal entitlement" card will be used to improve on existing forms of government ID.
"[It] will cover the whole issue of identity fraud and a range of possible responses in the short, medium and long term, including the advantages and disadvantages of an entitlement card scheme and other measures which might be taken to improve the security of existing forms of ID issued by the government," he said.
Earlier this month the Home Office introduced the first smart cards for asylum applicants. Manufactured by French supplier Sagem, the cards contain a secure chip that holds the applicant's fingerprint data. The fingerprint is placed on a reader and compared to the print on the chip in the card.
The government's final decision on national ID cards will be influenced by a policy report on smart cards and digital signatures from the Office of the E-envoy.
Supplier body the Computing Software and Services Association (CSSA) and consultancy Logica are members of the board advising e-envoy Andrew Pinder.
Both say that, with the 2005 deadline for putting public services online looming, the government is concerned at the growing number of public and private sector smart cards being developed in isolation.
"The cost is not the key obstacle. At government level there is greater concern about the issue of interoperability. The UK market is very fragmented in terms of standards of the cards and card readers, user interfaces and the development and management of cards," explained Mark Campbell, UK strategy consultant at Logica.
But Tim Conway, policy director at the CSSA, said that the complexity of combining services onto one card is likely to force the government to issue single smart cards for each service. "For a while we will see a plethora of different cards in our wallets for different purposes," he said.
Logica has estimated that a typical ID smart card will cost between £5 and £15 to make, meaning that it could cost the government at least £300m just to produce a universal national ID card.
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