David Leppard – The Sunday Times March 4, 2007
Children aged 11 to 16 are to have their fingerprints taken and stored on a secret database, internal Whitehall documents reveal.
The leaked Home Office plans show that the mass fingerprinting will start in 2010, with a batch of 295,000 youngsters who apply for passports.
The Home Office expects 545,000 children aged 11 and over to have their prints taken in 2011, with the figure settling at an annual 495,000 from 2014. Their fingerprints will be held on a database also used by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to store the fingerprints of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers.
The plans are outlined in a series of “restricted” documents circulating among officials in the Identity and Passport Service. They form part of the programme for the introduction of new biometric passports and ID cards.
Opposition politicians and privacy campaigners warn that the plans show ministers are turning Britain into a “surveillance society”.
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: “This borders on the sinister and it shows the government is trying to end the presumption of innocence. With the fingerprinting of all our children, this government is clearly determined to enforce major changes in the relationship between the citizen and the state in a way never seen before.”
Under the new passport and ID scheme, everyone over 16 who applies for a passport will have their details — including fingerprints and eye or facial scans — added to the National Identity Register from next year.
From October 2009, ID cards will be issued alongside new passports. Initially these will not be mandatory, but Tony Blair has said that if Labour is reelected it will make them compulsory, a process that the documents predict will take just over a decade.
Children under 16 will not be part of the ID card scheme. But the documents show that from 2010 they will still have to be fingerprinted for a new passport.
The prints will initially be stored on the directorate’s database. Once children reach 16 their fingerprints and other personal information will be passed for storage on the register, along with those of nearly 50m adults.
Children applying for passports will have to travel up to 80 miles to special Home Office screening centres to have their fingerprints taken.
The leaked plans envisage 90 new enrolment centres for the ID card scheme on top of the existing network of passport offices. They estimate that it will cost £528m over 10 years in travel costs for the 5.75m people expected to apply for a new passport each year.
The documents also spell out how the cost of passports is set to rise again this year. They say that unless the Home Office can get extra funding for the scheme, the cost of an adult passport will rise by £10 to £76 this October.
The cost will have risen by 81% since December 2005 when it increased from £42 to £51. Last October the price rose again to £66. When Labour came to power in 1997 a passport cost £18.
The plans show that the price of a child’s passport is to rise even more sharply, to £58 from the present £45. The price will have more than doubled in less than two years, rising in stages from £25 to £34 in December 2005 and to £45 last October.
Critics described the plans as a stealth tax on holidaymakers to pay for the controversial ID cards scheme. Ministers have already conceded that the cost of the new combined ID card and passport will be £93 from 2009, but the documents show that price could rise to £109 at to-day’s prices.
A range of further “stealth charges” will also be imposed, according to the documents. Women who change their names if they get married will have to pay £36; a further £27 will be charged to replace a lost or stolen ID card; £26 to replace a damaged card; and £6 for a change of address or personal ID number.
The documents show that ID cards will not be made compulsory for more than a decade, under present plans. “Compulsion will be triggered once 80% take-up is achieved in [the first quarter of] 2019,” they state. “It is assumed that, following compulsion, a 100% registration will be achieved two years later.”
The prime minister has hailed the ID cards scheme as the centrepiece of efforts to combat terrorism and illegal immigration, as well as identity theft and benefit fraud. But opponents dismiss it as a “Big Brother” scheme that is too expensive, poorly planned and unlikely to function efficiently.
Last year leaked e-mails from civil servants warned the scheme could be a “botched operation” that could delay the introduction of ID cards for a generation. The government says the scheme will cost £6 billion to implement. However, in 2005, the London School of Economics estimated it would cost £19 billion.
The Tories have pledged to scrap the scheme if they win the next election.
Last updated 07/03/2007