Supporters of the card believe it will help combat crime, credit fraud and illegal immigration. But opponents point to the lack of evidence to show that an ID card would have any significant effect on crime, while costing at least pounds 500m to set up and pounds 100m a year to run. There is also great concern about the civil liberty implications of a compulsory scheme which would almost certainly need new police powers to stop and search. Ian Westwood, vice-chairman of the Police Federation, which represents ranks from constable to chief inspector, welcomed the announcement and said he hoped that two or three years after the card was introduced it would be made compulsory.
A voluntary card, however, is considered by some to offer the worst of all worlds because it would not catch the people it is aimed at. Labour opposes the introduction of compulsory cards, but believe voluntary ones could have benefits such as preventing under-age drinking and allowing fast access to medical records.
Andrew Puddephatt, general director of Liberty, said: 'It's the last fling of a desperate man (Mr Howard) who is grabbing at any idea he can to try and save himself.'
Liberty argues that an ID card may be useful in beating credit-card and benefit fraud, but this would only work if the system was compulsory, and the savings would be small compared to the cost of the scheme.
Mr Puddephatt said that certain groups, such as a black people, teenagers, gays and protesters, were likely to be targeted by the police and computer records would be made of their movements.
Dr Michael Levi, director of criminology studies at the University of Wales College of Cardiff, said: 'It's hard to see how it will help with crime detection, because police officers say they know who the villians are - it's just prosecuting them that is difficult.' He added that criminals would immediately start producing counterfeit identification and a trade in stolen cards would be established within weeks.Reuse content