The Government's planned ID card scheme may not be introduced fully for up to 20 years, according to leaked Whitehall memos from officials charged with making the project work.
In some of the correspondence officials express fears that the scheme could be "canned completely" and speak of a "botched operation" that will put the introduction back for a generation.
The emails suggest such serious difficulties in implementing the scheme that a smaller, "face-saving" version is the only way a 2008 target to phase in identity cards will be met, according to The Sunday Times. The scheme has been repeatedly cited as a cornerstone in the Government's fight against terrorism, crime and illegal immigration.
The Government has proposed that 50 million adults in the UK should carry the cards. These will include data such as fingerprints or iris scans and the information could be checked against a national database.
A voluntary scheme will operate from 2008, but a further Labour administration aims to make the cards compulsory for over-16s.
An exchange of emails between the Identity and Passport Service, set up by the Home Office to introduce the cards, and the project director, David Foord, at the Office of Government Commerce, indicates the Government is "rethinking" the scheme. This could mean gathering the data or storing it on a temporary register, but not storing it on cards.
The correspondence is reported to have been leaked by an official close to the Treasury.