Students refuse to be ‘guinea pigs’ for ID cards

Students have launched a stinging attack on UK government proposals to make young people “guinea pigs” for ID cards.

Nick Heath

Leaked Home Office documents reveal teenagers may need an ID card to open a bank account or take out a student loan from 2010 – making them among the first people to have the biometric cards in the UK.

The National Union of Students (NUS) described the revelation in the leaked National Identity Scheme Delivery Strategy document as “morally reprehensible” and said it would bog students down in red tape.

NUS vice president for welfare, Ama Uzowuru, said: “It is extremely disappointing that the government is planning to use students as guinea pigs for this scheme by forcing them to take on ID cards in order to apply for a loan.

“Besides being morally reprehensible, this plan is also completely impractical. The student loan system is complicated enough as it is, without introducing yet another layer of bureaucracy to the process. Many students change address at least once a year and would be obliged to report such changes in their personal circumstances or face a £1,000 fine.”

She added: “We would also be concerned for the safety of students’ personal information if they were forced to enter the ID card system.”

The first UK citizens will get the cards in 2009 when they are given to workers in trusted positions such as airport staff or people working in other sensitive locations, while foreign nationals coming to the UK will be given cards from the end of this year.

The widespread rollout to UK citizens, known as “Borders phase II”, is now slated to begin in 2012 – two years later than indicated in an earlier government action plan.

The document says: “Implementation of identity cards will be benefits led, with the first cards issued to individuals where there is the strongest national or personal benefit. We should issue ID cards to young people to assist them as they open their first bank account, take out a student loan, etc.”

Critics of the scheme said the perceived two-year slip in the widespread rollout of the cards is another sign of wavering support among Gordon Brown’s government for ID cards.

Shadow immigration minister, Damian Green, said: “The government are clearly trying to introduce the cards by stealth. This is straightforward blackmail and a desperate attempt to bolster a failing policy.”

A spokesman for the Identity and Passport Service said this was a draft document, adding: “When developing policy, it is obviously right and logical that our first priority should be to consider where ID cards can be of greatest benefit to the UK and to the individual.”