Some ID cards will be handed out to the public by the end of next year, the Home Secretary said today.
Jacqui Smith said "small volumes" of cards will be available months ahead of schedule.
Ministers are considering launching a website in the New Year enabling anyone who wants a card to register their interest.
The cards, which will store copies of two fingerprints and a facial scan - will enable holders to travel around Europe without a passport.
They will cost £30 each and will be available for everyone else from 2011. The overall cost of the ID card and biometric passport scheme is nearly £5bn.
Launching the government's response to a consultation on ID card delivery, Ms Smith said the cards would replace bank statements, driving licences and birth certificates for anyone looking to confirm their identity.
The biometric data stored on the cards and the ID card database could be collected on the high street at post office counters or in shops, she said.
She also announced stronger powers for the ID cards watchdog to enforce cooperation by government departments and companies involved in collecting the data.
Addressing the Social Market Foundation think tank in central London, she said there was already a need for a "universal means of proving identity".
She said: "The time is fast approaching when the use of bills and bank statements to prove our identity will no longer cut it, and when our personal dictionary of different passwords for different purposes will become too unwieldy to work effectively."
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