Background and history

Background information about Identity Management systems ...

ID cards in the UK

Unlike many other European states the United Kingdom has not generally operated a system of identity cards.
Identity documents were, however, issued during wartime and public officials could demand to see them. In the case of the identity cards issued during the Second World War under the authority of the National Registration Act 1939, the system continued to operate for some years after the end of hostilities, tied in part to the continuing rationing of food and other supplies.

In 1953, Parliament finally repealed the 1939 Act mainly because of the cost of sustaining the identity card register.

Towards the end of the 20th century discussion began again. It became government policy to establish a system of identity cards, firstly to deter illegal immigrants and benefit fraud, and then because of concerns for national security. The Identity Cards Act 2006 provided for registering people into a National Identity Register. It also made it an offence to carry a false identity document or to forge identity documents. The scheme was meant to start with a system for biometric identification of foreign nationals scheduled to begin in 2008, then issuing ID cards to British citizens from 2009.

The size of a credit card, each ID card has a digital image of the holder, their name, the place and date of the card's issue, a signature and a unique identity number. For foreign nationals there is also a "type of permit" section showing the person's visa category as well as a "valid until" date showing how long the holder has permission to stay in the UK.



On the reverse, the card carries an electronic chip recording biometric details including fingerprints. The holder's gender, date and place of birth and nationality are recorded above a section entitled Remarks, which is a section listing entitlements while in the UK.

Other kinds of ID   In the UK there are already a number of other systems in place. Every person eligible to obtain employment must get a National Insurance number. This is used both to qualify for social benefits and with the tax authorities. The NI number is currently issued on a simple plastic card with no electronic technology included. It was intended that the NI database would be the starting point for managing a national identity scheme.

ID numbers are also provided for the NHS, passports and driving licences.  There are also various cards used to prove age, e.g. to prove you are old enough to buy alcohol, or for pensioner concessions.

Back in 2007, a UK Government Minister stated that government departments already stored “vast amounts of data about individual citizens” but that this was not usually shared, often to the detriment of the public. An example given was where one family had had to contact the government 44 times to confirm various details after a relative died in a road accident.

There is a detailed discussion of information sharing using electronic technology in a UK country profile (pdf, 27 pp) prepared for the European ID project (July 2009).

Towards a European ID card

STORK was a programme co-funded by EU. It aimed at working up an EU-wide electronic ID system (eID) that would enable businesses, citizens and government employees to use their national electronic identities in any Member State. It was also going to pilot cross-border eGovernment identity services and hoped to learn from running pilot projects what benefits and challenges an EU-wide joint system for recognition of eID could bring. Action on this project has been frozen since 2009.

Examples in Europe:

It is compulsory for all German citizens age 16 or older to possess either a Personalausweis (ID card) or a passport, but not to carry one. Police officers and some other officials have a right to demand to see one of those documents, but the law in Germany does not require a person to submit the document at that very moment. Driver's licences are not legally accepted as an ID in Germany, so some people choose to carry their Personalausweis with them.  From November 2010, German ID cards can also contain an integrated digital signature.
Specimen of a German identity card issued since November 2010
  The Slovak ID card uses the recommended EU format. All citizens must have one, and the ID card is also recognised throughout Europe in place of a passport. Outside Europe a passport is still needed. The card itself does not include any further encoded personal data.