The House of Commons has passed the controversial ID card Bill by a vote of 224 to 64. It hopes to see the introduction of biometric identity cards and a central database of all UK citizens by 2010.
However, its primary sponsor, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, admitted that he expected the Bill to face stiff opposition in the House of Lords.
The Identity Cards Bill would create a system of ID cards with embedded chips that carry personal information and biometric identifiers. Each citizen's name, address as well as fingerprints, facial scans and iris scans will be included in a massive database called the National Identification Register.
The system is expected to cost up to £5.5 billion to implement, and calls for a standalone biometric ID card to be issued alongside a biometric passport. It would become compulsory for everyone living in the UK, including children, by 2012.
The vote came on the same day that the US House of Representatives approved its own version of electronic ID card legislation in a 261-161 vote. The US' Real ID Act would require states to issue driver's licenses and other ID cards with physical security features such as a digital photograph and other basic data, using what the bill describes as machine-readable technology. That could include a magnetic strip or RFID tag.
Tony Blair and home secretary Charles Clarke have said biometric ID cards are a crucial part of the government's fight against identity fraud, illegal workers, illegal immigration, terrorism and abuse of programs such as the National Health Service (NHS).
"The reason why this measure is supported not only by the Government but by the police and the security services is that people believe that, particularly when we have biometric passports and the biometric technology available, we can construct an identity card that gives us the best possible protection against crime and terrorism," Blair said. "I do not think it is wrong or a breach of anyone's civil liberties to say that we should have an identity card. Most people carry some form of identification anyway. I think it is long overdue, and we should get on and do it."
There remains a very active opposition to ID cards however and both the Conservative and LibDems have refused to support the Bill. Questions over biometrics reliability are also likely to be wide debate as the Bill progresses through the Parliamentary process.