The Home Office is working with employers to encourage them to use ID cards for verifying the identities of their staff.
A working group of 50 organisations, including major banks, pharmaceutical companies and the Royal Mail, have for the past 12 months been investigating how the cards could be used in business.
Employers are likely to use ID cards to check the identity of new employees against the central population register to ensure they are entitled to work, the Home Office said.
Under the plans, one of the first applications will be to use ID cards to automate checks against the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) database, reducing the turnaround time from four months to 72 hours.
Katherine Courtney, ID cards programme director at the Home Office, said the cards would improve efficiency in CRB checks.
“Last year, more than 500 people appealed against their disclosure and 500 people were given the wrong record,” she said. “The CRB has worked with us on a complete redesign.”
Government departments would be early adopters of ID card applications – for example, for secure entry or authentication for access to IT systems.
Robert Bond, a partner at law firm Faegre and Benson, said ID cards could prove useful for HR, but warned that the way employers access or use information from them could lead to problems.
“We’ve seen a recent case in France where a company was taken to court because it was using an ID card scheme to monitor staff,” he said.
The [UK Identity Cards] Bill could also place an unnecessary administrative burden on employers, as they may be responsible for updating certain pieces of information.”
The TUC has raised concerns that ID cards – which are expected to come into use by 2008 – could lead to discrimination against ethnic minority workers or those suffering from certain illnesses.
Gradual roll-out for ID cards
The Home Office said it will implement its 5.3bn ID card programme gradually, to allow the government to learn lessons as it goes along.
The government plans to simplify the project by building the ID card programme into the UK Passport Service programme.
ID cards will be issued from 2008, when passports expire, allowing the government to gradually ramp-up the number of ID card holders from a few hundred thousand to the whole population.
The Home Office said it had learned from other government projects and was confident the project would work.