Britain's top police officer gave his support yesterday to the introduction of compulsory identity cards, describing them as an "absolutely essential" tool in the war against terrorism.
Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said Britain was at its highest level of alert in its peacetime history because of the threat of terrorism. Police and security services were working on the assumption that an attack was "inevitable".
Identity cards carrying biometric features such as fingerprints and eye retina patterns should be introduced as soon as possible to assist police in their anti-terrorism work, he told BBC1's Breakfast With Frost programme.
Proposals devised by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, for ID cards have met opposition in the Cabinet, with the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, reported to be at the head of a group of ministers voicing concern over costs and civil liberties.
The Queen's Speech later this month is expected to include a Bill to introduce a voluntary ID card scheme but legislation on a compulsory system is thought to be several years away.
Sir John said he had "absolutely no doubt" that the cards would help in the fight against terrorism and hoped it would not take years to introduce a scheme. "The sooner it is brought in for us - being somewhat selfish in terms of public safety - the better. It is something I was ambivalent about five years ago, but am very much in favour of now.
"It is absolutely essential in the dangerous world we live in, that we have proper means of identification. If we have got a means of identifying people with reasonable certainty - which this is - then that is what we should be doing."
Sir John, who has overall responsibility for the police's anti-terrorist activities, said that the level of response to the threat was far higher now than it had been during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The Met was facing an "unprecedented" challenge over the next few weeks, working to ensure security during President George Bush's state visit to Britain, which begins on 19 November.
"We are on the highest alert that we have ever been at," Sir John said. "We are working two-and-a-half times harder than we did at the height of the Irish terrorism campaign.
"There's a massive amount of activity, a massive amount of work taking place.
"For us in the security services, what we have to do is to see an attack as inevitable.
"That means to say we are doing everything we can to prevent it, but just as important is that if it does take place, we have got everything in place to ensure that we can do everything for the people of London and the people of this country."Reuse content