Britain plans to introduce a controversial identification card plan in the coming months, with foreign workers first in line to get the compulsory ID's. VOA's Sonja Pace has details from London.

The British government is set to begin issuing compulsory national identification cards later this year. During a speech in London, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith explained why.

"As a government we have a duty to ensure that the national identity scheme supports our national security and that it provides a robust defense against those who seek to use false identity to mask criminal or terrorist activity," explained Smith.

Non-European foreigners will have to provide fingerprints and personal data for the ID cards by November.

In 2009, migrants from other European countries and British nationals in certain security risk jobs, such as airline staff and baggage handlers will also be required to sign up for the new ID cards. Students and young people will be encouraged to voluntarily sign up the following year.

By 2017 the government hopes to have most Britons enrolled in the plan, but new legislation will be required to make the ID cards compulsory.

Smith repeated the government's argument that having national ID cards and an accompanying data base will protect citizens against identity theft, control illegal immigration, increase public security and guard against terrorism.

"Many of the terrorists convicted in recent years have routinely used multiple passports, bank accounts and other forms of identity," added Smith.

The government argues that because each person's identification card will be linked to specific fingerprints, it will make it harder for terrorists or criminals to steal that identity.

The ID card plan is estimated to cost more than $10 billion during the next decade.

Opponents of the plan say it is too costly, will not enhance security and will only erode civil liberties. They also question the government's ability to handle the personal data securely, citing recent high profile losses of sensitive personal information, including people's banking details.

Other European countries have national identification-card systems. In some countries such as Germany, national ID cards are compulsory, while in others such as France they are widely used, but not mandatory.

The United States has no national ID cards, but drivers' licenses are so widely used as every day identification that they are almost an unofficial national photo ID.