Police-state fear over identity cards

The introduction of a compulsory national identity smart-card could raise the damaging spectre of a "police state", ministers are warned in confidential cabinet papers found in a junk shop, writes Heather Mills.

The papers say these civil rights objections to the card would be overcome if it was made voluntary rather than compulsory.

Full proposals will be announced in a Green Paper in the spring. Although Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, who will issue the paper, is said to favour a compulsory card, he is prepared to consider a voluntary scheme to make it more acceptable to the public.

The papers suggest the card could be issued for one primary purpose, say a driving licence, but capable of qualifying for a range of other purposes such as passports, benefits, medical records and training schemes at the user's request. But civil rights groups say it would then only be a matter of time before the scheme became compulsory.

Yesterday a Gallup survey for the Daily Telegraph indicated that unquestioned public support for the card may not be as widespread as the Home Secretary had believed.

Although police are generally supportive and a large majority of people are in favour in principle, they have serious doubts about how secure the card would be.