Plans to introduce identity cards have been included in the Queen's Speech today, marking a significant testing ground for biometric security technology.
Details of the plans were kept to a minimum, with Her Majesty telling parliament that the government "will take forward work on an incremental approach to a national identity cards scheme and will publish a draft bill in the new year".
It is likely that the cards will incorporate biometric technology. With potentially almost 50 million cards (for UK citizens aged 16 or above) being issued, this would be a major testing ground for the technology.
"The government will have to meet a wide range of technological challenges if plans for a national ID card scheme are to be successfully achieved", said John Higgins, director general of IT lobby group Intellect.
Investment in strong identity management and authentication will provide a critical foundation for unlocking the benefits of IT systems, said Alan Roger, senior research analyst at Butler Group.
But government plans could be in danger of leapfrogging current capabilities.
"Biometrics is a technology whose standards are not yet fully mature," warned Roger. "The complexities of reading, encoding, and matching biometric information can introduce an error rate greater than the general public might find acceptable."
Even Cabinet ministers have been sceptical about the plans. When talking about ID cards recently, Trade and Industry secretary Patricia Hewitt acknowledged that the government's track record indicated that large IT projects had "a horrible habit of going wrong".
The legislation to be unveiled next year will also aim to iron out potential problems with existing laws, such as the Data Protection Act (DPA), to give the government greater flexibility on how it can use personal information.
The DPA imposes conditions on how stored personal information can be used.
The government intends to combine information currently stored by the Passport Agency and the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency to form a national identity database. This procedure could face problems without the clarification.
"The government will look to establish, by law, the lawfulness of using existing personal information," said Charlotte Walker-Osbourn, technology lawyer at law firm Eversheds.
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