Government departments and local authorities are working on plans to use biometric ID to check the identities of people accessing local government services online.
A cross-government committee has begun developing a technology roadmap that will allow local authorities to build ID card checks into their websites when the £5.8bn ID card programme is rolled out in 2009.
Ministers believe the initiative could make it easier and cheaper for local councils to provide secure online services, particularly joined-up services with central government. "The National Identity Register is the missing link that could make e-government work," said Home Office minister Andrew Burnham.
Local authorities are under pressure to make services available online and are beginning to issue smartcards to residents for accessing public transport, libraries and other services.
But ID cards could be a more effective alternative, said Government Connect (GC), a government-backed project to develop secure infrastructure standards for local authorities, and part of the working group.
"There are quite a few areas where being able to prove someone's identity electronically could improve quality of service and the time taken to deliver it," said Sue Devlin, head of GC.
Devlin estimates that about half of local councils are enthusiastic about using ID cards, while others are struggling to develop a business case for providing online services.
Government Connect is looking at the idea of developing regional schemes that could reduce the cost of online services by spreading the cost over a larger area. It is also undertaking an audit to assess which government services could benefit from ID cards.
The ID card programme has slipped back a year, following delays in passing the ID cards bill through Parliament. Procurement for the project would start immediately the bill receives royal assent, which is expected in March.