Scots teenagers to be issued with ID cards

EVERY secondary school pupil in Scotland is to be issued with an ID card bearing his or her name, age and address, under a controversial government scheme branded last night as an assault on privacy.

The ‘entitlement cards’ will be issued to 400,000 12 to 18-year-olds from March next year and will be used for a range of services including school meals and leisure centres.

But the scheme - which has already been piloted in Aberdeen - was condemned yesterday as a cynical ploy to introduce national identity cards for adults by the back door.

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Civil rights organisations and opposition politicians believe the Scottish Executive is ‘softening up’ a new generation to the idea of compulsory ID cards. While it will not be compulsory to carry the cards, young people will be offered a series of inducements - such as cut-price CDs and cinema tickets - to encourage their use. Evidence from the Aberdeen pilot suggests that children who misplace their cards are then unable to buy school meals.

The Executive has confirmed that distribution of the cards will begin in March next year. Each card is expected to carry the name and photograph of the holder. In addition, the cards will also bear chips which will have the youngster’s age and address encoded by computer.

Ministers are studying a recently launched scheme in Aberdeen, where every one of the city’s 11,500 high school children received entitlement cards.

An Executive spokesman told Scotland on Sunday that the scheme, officially called ‘Dialogue Youth’, would see 400,000 cards given to all Scotland’s 12-18 year olds. The spokesman said they would not be compulsory.

The new cards will also be used as ‘electronic purses’, meaning that money may be loaded and stored on the card and used in school canteens and cashless tuck shops. Children entitled to free school meals will be able to use the cards to pay for their meals discreetly and avoid the traditional free-meal stigmas of separate queues or special tickets.

In addition, the cards could be used to allow children to swipe their way into schools and lessons, meaning that class registers could be taken electronically. They will also replace library cards and sports centre passes.

But the Executive admits youngsters will retain the cards when they leave school and use them, among other things, as proof of age, allowing bar staff to check on a customer.

It is also envisaged that the entitlement cards will carry data such as blood groups, and possibly medical records such as allergies to certain drugs or treatments.

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Last week, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, restated his aim to introduce ID cards for all adults as a means of clamping down on terror, illegal immigration and benefit fraud.

The government has estimated the scheme would cost 1.5bn, with people being charged about 40 a head. It is expected the card’s chip will contain ‘biometric’ data, such as a scan of fingerprints along with a retinal scan to help identify every individual.

John Scott, the director of the Scottish Human Rights Centre, said: "They are trying to soften up young people to the idea of compulsory ID cards."

Marian Pagani, chairwoman of the Glasgow children’s panel, said: "I can see why it might be useful that someone would be able to identify your child in certain situations, I am unconvinced about wanting all young people to carry cards all the time. How will the information be safeguarded?"

Senior figures have warned of the dangers inherent in the scheme. The UK information commissioner Richard Thomas believes there is a risk of "function creep", whereby a card that starts off only carrying basic details is later widened to include much more personal details. He has warned ministers to guard against a drift towards "a surveillance society".

Fiona Hyslop, the SNP spokeswoman on children’s issues, said: "It seems to be a soft-soap PR method of preparing young people for the idea of carrying an ID card. We are totally opposed to the idea of a compulsory ID card."

The Scottish Tories last night warned ministers against making the scheme obligatory.

A spokesman said: "As long as this scheme is voluntary it may have benefits. But this must not just be a scheme designed for the aid of big government."

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However, a spokesman for the First Minister denied claims that the cards would be a back-door method of introducing compulsory ID checks. He said: "The key fact is that these cards will not be compulsory. This is about modern access to services and not about compulsory ID cards."