Government to license thousands of firms to check identities

The government has revealed that tens of thousands of businesses will be accredited to make identity checks on customers and employees, should ID cards be introduced as planned in 2007.

Documents released by the Home Office last week predicted that 44,000 businesses and 256 government bodies would be given rights to check the details of individuals on a national population database.

Officials conceded, however, that the figure was probably a “significant underestimate” and that in practice many more companies would be licensed to use ID cards to verify identities.

“We do not have a definitive list of applications but there are numerous situations where individuals are required to prove their IDs; for example, in banks, doctors’ surgeries, retailers for proof of age, and any situation where you would be required to prove who your are,” said a Home Office spokeswoman.

The Home Office said this week it would not make it compulsory for employers to carry out biometric checks on staff to verify their eligibility to work, and it would not charge businesses to make the checks.

The news will be welcomed by smaller businesses, for whom the biometric readers could prove expensive. According to initial Home Office estimates, readers could cost between £250 and £750.

Instead, Home Office officials are considering introducing a mobile phone-based system that would allow small businesses to verify that ID cards are genuine by texting the card details to the ID database and asking the card holder to type in a personal identification number.

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