LONDON — Britain's home secretary said Thursday an unpopular national identity card program for U.K. citizens will be scrapped within 100 days – but many foreign nationals will still require one of the credit-card sized documents carrying biometric data.
Both members of the country's new coalition government pledged during this month's national election to ditch the unpopular 5.1-billion-pound ($7.3 billion) plan, which Britain's previous administration said would help combat terrorism and identity fraud.
The ID cards were designed to carry biographical details and biometric data, including fingerprints and a facial image. Information was stored on a national identity database – which will also be dismantled.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the plan to ditch the cards and database will be the first piece of legislation tabled by the new government. She said 15,000 cards already issued to British citizens will be invalidated.
"With swift parliamentary approval, we aim to consign identity cards and the intrusive ID card scheme to history within 100 days," May said.
Britain's government has announced plans for an overhaul of civil liberties laws, aiming to roll back policies which it claims have stifled personal freedoms.
"The wasteful, bureaucratic and intrusive ID card scheme represents everything that has been wrong with government in recent years," said Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
But the Home Office confirmed that foreign nationals from outside the European Union who apply for residency in Britain will continue to be issued with a similar card carrying biographical and biometric data. Cards for foreigners have been issued since November 2008 and about 215,000 have been issued, the ministry confirmed.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil liberties campaign group Liberty, urged May also to scrap the program for foreign nationals.
"We have spent many years arguing that this grand folly would cost our freedom, privacy and race relations dearly and the public agreed. We hope that scrapping ID cards for foreign nationals will soon follow," Chakrabarti said.
Britain's Identity and Passport Service said that around 260 million pounds ($378 million) already has been spent on the program, but said the costs of terminating contracts and destroying sensitive information will be less than 100 million pounds ($145 million). About 60 staff will lose their jobs.
Cards for British nationals were intended to be widely introduced from 2012 and have been available on a voluntary basis since last year. Gordon Brown's government initially intended the documents to be compulsory, but dropped the requirement last year amid public protest.