US wants to be able to access Britons' ID cards

By Kim Sengupta

27 May 2005

The Independent

http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/story.jsp?story=641731

The United States wants Britain's proposed identity cards to have the same
microchip and technology as the ones used on American documents.

The aim of getting the same microchip is to ensure compatability in
screening terrorist suspects. But it will also mean that information
contained in the British cards can be accessed across the Atlantic.

Michael Chertoff, the newly appointed US Secretary for Homeland Security,
has already had talks with the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, and the
Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, to discuss the matter.

Mr Chertoff said yesterday that it was vital to seek compatibility, holding
up the example of the "video war" of 25 years ago, when VHS and Betamax were
in fierce competition to win the status of industry standard for video
recording systems.

"I certainly hope we have the same chip... It would be very bad if we all
invested huge amounts of money in biometric systems and they didn't work
with each other.Hopefully, we are not going to do VHS and Betamax with our
chips. I was one of the ones who bought Betamax, and that's now in the
garbage," he said.

Mr Chertoff also proposed that British citizens wishing to visit the US
should consider entering a "Trusted Traveller" scheme. Under this, they
would forward their details to the US embassy to be vetted. If successful,
they would receive a document allowing "fast- tracking" through the US
immigration system.

A pilot scheme will start within a few months between the US and the
Netherlands, allowing Dutch visitors to use a Trusted Traveller card to
enter the US without being subjected to further questioning or screening.

Britain is one of 27 countries whose citizens do not need visas to enter the
US if they intend to stay less than 90 days. The American government has
said it wants 27 to issue new passports by 26 October this year containing a
computer chip and a digital photograph.

Mr Chertoff said compatability and the checking system was intended purely
to track down "terrorists and criminals" and the main aim was to provide a
"fair and reasonable system".

US diplomatic sources stated later that Washington did not wish to interfere
in the domestic affairs of other countries.

"When we screen based on names, we're screening on the most primitive and
least technological basis of identification - it's the most susceptible to
misspelling, or people changing their identity, or fraud," he said.

The scheme will also, say diplomats, ease confusion over who exactly
constitutes a suspect. The most high-profile case was that of Yusuf Islam,
the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, who was barred from entering the
US because his activities "could be potentially linked to terrorism". The
British government is insistent that Mr Islam had no such links.

However, this is the latest controversy to surround Britain's proposed
combined identity card and passport due to be introduced in three years'
time. Rising costs have pushed the cost up to £93 each after the overall
estimated 10-year cost of the project grew from £3.1bn to £ 5.8 bn.

There have also been problems over the effectiveness of the biometric
technology which is supposed to safeguard the security of the cards. There
were also verification problems with 30 per cent of those whose fingerprint
was taken during an enrolment trial of 10,000 volunteers.