The Home Office says the cards — which include an electronic chip holding fingerprints and a digital facial image — will guard against identity fraud, illegal workers, organised crime and terrorism.
They fear the scheme could lead to spying on ordinary citizens and the subsequent ethical issues this raises.
Steve Graham, professor of geography at Durham University and a member of the UK Surveillance Studies Network, said: “The most disturbing thing about the UK ID cards scheme is the cards’ potential, through their embedded radio frequency chips, to be used as a means of passively tracking people’s whereabouts continuously and covertly.”
Dr Francisco Klauser, an expert in security politics at Durham, added: “It raises a series of important issues not only in terms of privacy and individual liberties, but also in view of its potential for discrimination between different populations through modes of classification that may include ethnicity and nationality, for example.”
Dr Matthew Kearnes, from the university’s Institute of Hazard and Risk, has researched the implications of new technologies on society.
He said: “Given the Government’s recent track record — the NHS data base scandals and concerns about electronic wheelie-bin monitoring — this technological approach is likely to exacerbate existing public concerns.”