US dismisses national ID cards

US president George W Bush will not pursue a national identification card system despite calls from parts of government and...

US president George W Bush will not pursue a national identification card system despite calls from parts of government and industry following the 11 September terrorist attacks.

"We are not even considering the idea," said a Bush spokesman. The US government's position is in marked contrast to that of the Home Secretary David Blunkett, who last week said ID cards in the UK were under active consideration.

The White House's lukewarm reception of the idea followed a recent surge of interest in national ID cards, which included an offer from Oracle chief executive, Larry Ellison, to have his company bear the software costs for such a system.

Research by the US-based Pew Research Centre found that most Americans now favour a national ID card, although most baulked at government surveillance of phone calls and e-mails.

Nevertheless, vendors are poised for a government move toward national ID cards.

"What we are talking about here in terms of value to the user is confidence. Security is part of it, as is ease of use, convenience and mobility," said Tom Arthur, executive-vice president at ActivCard, a company specialising in digital security.

ActivCard was signed up by the US Defence Department, along with a host of other vendors, to deliver an ID card for military use.

The massive military smart card system makes use of public key infrastructure (PKI) technology and ties together human resources, payroll and other Defence Department databases with basic identifying information.

The Defence Department will spend about £100m on the programme over five years. Each card will cost the military about £4.

According to Arthur, the Defence Department's system could possibly serve as a model for a national system. ActivCard estimates that a national ID card would have a similar initial cost-per-card, but that the price could rise to £8 per person when related systems costs were added in.

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