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Government drops iris scan plan

Iris scans will not form part of the UK Government's planned identity card system the National Identity Register (NIR). The only biometric information to be held on ID cards will now be fingerprints, in contrast to previously stated plans.08 Jan 2007

The Home Office's Strategic Action Plan for the National Identity Scheme, published in December, said that iris scans were now just an option, and only fingerprints will be taken from those enrolling in the scheme.

"When you enrol into the Scheme, your fingerprint biometrics (all 10 fingerprints) will be recorded and stored in the National Identity Register," said the document. "A subset of these will be held on your ID card or passport, in line with International Civil Aviation Organization standards. The introduction of iris biometrics also remains an option."

James Hall, the chief executive of the Identity and Passport Service, told IT Week that the decision was down to cost. "Collecting every biometric involves significant extra cost and I believe we can achieve the objective – securing people’s identities – without irises," he said.

A Home Office spokeswoman said that the government would focus on facial and fingerprint recognition but that a return to iris scanning in the future would not be ruled out.

"The reason we are not having iris scanning is to do with international obligations, most international countries are using facial and fingerprint recognition so it is to come in line with that," said the spokeswoman.

The Government had previously planned for a scheme that would use photographs, iris scans and fingerprints. The revised plan will make the cards cheaper to make and process but may raise fears about the level of security of the identification it provides.

The move is the latest policy climb-down for the ID card scheme. The Government also announced in December that it would no longer be building one new single database on which the NIR would be stored.

The information will sit on three existing Government databases. The Department for Work and Pensions database will hold biographical information; biometric data, such as fingerprints or eye scans, will be held on the Home Office system; and the Identity and Passport Service system will hold the remaining information.

The decision came despite the fact that the Government had previously avoided that plan in an attempt to avoid replicating existing flaws in those systems.

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