July 14, 2005

Australia to consider ID card to fight terrorism

By Michael Perry

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia should consider introducing a
national identity card in the wake of the London bombings and
the rise in global terrorism, Prime Minister John Howard said
on Friday.

Australia last debated a national ID card, called the
Australia Card, in 1987. Howard, then in opposition, opposed
the card, but now says times have changed.

"This is an issue that ought to be back on the table...in
the wake of something like the terrible tragedy in London,"
Howard told a news conference ahead of a trip to Washington and
London to discuss security and trade.

The British government in June took the first parliamentary
step toward introducing identity cards to counter terrorism.
The biometric ID cards, a world first, would use fingerprint,
face and iris recognition to identify Britons.

The Australian newspaper reported on Friday that the
conservative government's National Security Committee was
examining whether tougher measures, including ID cards, were
needed to close loopholes in counter-terrorism operations.

Australia is a staunch ally of the United States, sending
troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been on medium
security alert since Sept. 11, 2001.

Australia's embassy in Jakarta was bombed in 2004 and 88
Australians were killed in the 2002 Bali bombings but there has
never been a major peacetime attack on home soil.

British police say the London train and bus bombings were
the work of three British Muslims of Pakistani origin and a
Jamaican-born Briton. Howard has said Australia could also be
the target of "homegrown" suicide bombers.

Two Australian men, of Middle East and Asian origin, are to
stand trial on separate charges on planning a terror attack in
Sydney and compiling a "terrorist manual."

Queensland state Labor premier Peter Beattie backed an ID
system, saying Australia may be forced to introduce compulsory
ID cards due to global terrorism. "With what's happening with
terrorism in the world, I think it's very likely," he said.

Beattie said ID cards would also prevent Australians being
mistaken as illegal immigrants and detained or deported.
Australia is investigating 200 cases of wrongful detention.

He said privacy concerns which stymied the Australia Card
were no longer an issue because personal information was now
readily available via credit cards and drivers licenses.

Identity cards are used in about a dozen European Union
countries, although they are not always compulsory. Britons
have not carried ID cards since they were abolished after World
War II.

The British government has said that if ID cards are
approved by parliament, voluntary cards would not be introduced
before 2008 at the earliest and would not be made compulsory
before 2013, and only then if parliament agreed.

Critics of the British ID cards say they are expensive,
unnecessary and intrusive. A British study has said the cost of
the ID card system could soar to 19 billion pounds ($35
billion) -- three times official estimates.

Britain's opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat
parties say they will vote against the cards when the issue is
debated again.