What you need to know about ID cards

Whether you back the looming ID system or not, here's what you need to know about government plans to create an identity database.

And then everyone elseBut the cards aren't just for foreign nationals and pop stars.

The Home Office has stressed again and again that having an ID card is not compulsory for any British citizen. The cards will, however, be designated as necessary to apply for anyone wanting a passport so if you want to leave the country, you'll need to be on the registry.

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At the moment, the cards will also be necessary for anyone requiring a criminal background check to work airside at Manchester and London City airports. The Home Office told IT PRO this will likely expand to anyone needing such a background check such as teachers and could possibly expand to anyone applying for a driver's licence.

Those airside workers will receive their cards by the end of 2009. Following that, for the next two years, signing up for the cards will be strictly voluntary and targeted at young people. The cards will initially cost 30, but could go up in cost by 2012, and airside workers and others may receive them free as an added incentive to sign up to the registry. Another incentive to sign up will be their potential use for European travel why get a passport for 72 when you can get an ID card for free?

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From 2012, anyone applying for a passport will be required to register. The Home Office estimates this will be between five and six million people annually. It is on a voluntary basis only if you consider the ability to leave the country ever in your life unnecessary.

The cardThe card itself is fairly innocuous. It will cost 30 to get one of the devices, which will be same size as a standard credit card.

Click here for a picture of the card.

In many ways, it will be similar to a passport. It will expire after ten years, and will hold the same details found on the data page of a standard UK passport. On the front of the card will be a photograph alongside the person's name, date of birth, nationality and immigration status. The embedded chip will hold biometrics, which at the moment include a digital image and fingerprints.

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There will be no requirement to carry the card this isn't Nazi Germany but immigrants will be asked to show it to would-be employers to prove their working status.

The card can also be used as a basic photo ID, to buy alcohol and cigarettes, for example, as it will carry a photograph and date of birth on the front. It could also be used in place of a passport to travel to countries in Europe, and eventually even to former Commonwealth states which don't require British citizens to have a visa. (Any country requiring a visa will still require a passport, as the card obviously has no pages to glue such documents into.)

In more advanced transactions, it can be used to prove identity by checking details on the registry. If you're looking to move a big sum of money at a bank, they could ask for proof of identity and then check your card is still valid using an online system, for example.

The registryIt's hard to see what the problem is with a piece of photo identification. Any drinker has one to get into bars, any smoker has one to buy cigarettes, and any traveller has one to get on a plane. What's the big deal?

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