By Andrew Woodcock, PA News
HOME Secretary David Blunkett gave a clear indication Sunday that he is considering the introduction of compulsory identity cards in the UK.
And he suggested that the Human Rights Act introduced under the first Blair administration may have to be amended in order to permit the introduction of tough new anti-terror legislation in the wake of the atrocities in the US.
He was speaking as polls suggested a high level of support for identity cards among British people, with as many as 85% backing their introduction.
In an interview with BBC1's On the Record, Mr Blunkett stressed the need to balance the fight against terrorism with the freedoms of a liberal society.
But he said that his "instincts" were that beating terror must take priority and that politicians' ability to act must not be hamstrung by an excessively legalistic approach to human rights.
Mr Blunkett said that he was giving "a fairly high priority" to the question of identity cards, but would not allow himself to be rushed into a decision in the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington.
He told On the Record: "It would not be right for me to make a snap announcement when we haven't had the chance to properly think through the implications, and to do so on the back of the attack on the World Trade Centre."
Any identity card system would not merely have a security purpose, but would offer a means of ensuring citizens' access to their entitlements, he said.
Cards could incorporate high-tech features such as finger-print or iris recognition to make them impossible to forge, he said.
Mr Blunkett dismissed the idea of voluntary cards, floated before the September 11 outrages, as "not a great deal of help" in the fight against terrorism.
The provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights - incorporated into British law by the Human Rights Act - had proved "difficult to deal with in the current circumstances" created by the US attacks, said Mr Blunkett.
He said: "There will be a balance to be struck. There will be tensions between the European Convention on Human Rights and the necessary protection that we seek.
"I hope that in getting this balance right, we can accept one fundamental tenet of our system - that it is elected representatives who can be removed and are accountable in a democratic, open and transparent Parliament who should be the prime protectors of our rights, rather than having to rely on the judicial system which, by its very nature, may protect us against authoritarianism but isn't accountable.
"I think we will have to find an accommodation which allows us to ensure that we take the kind of actions which prevent the terrorists undermining and doing away with the most basic freedoms of all - the freedom from insecurity and fear and from the taking of life.
"My instincts are to ensure that we take whatever action is necessary to engage with terrorism abusing our democracy in order to destroy it.
"My instincts are to ensure that the law is proportionate to the threat."
Mr Blunkett dismissed suggestions that Parliament might be recalled over the next few weeks in order to rush through anti-terrorist legislation.
New bills may well be introduced, but the process of drafting them in an effective way would inevitably be lengthy and would prohibit any hasty action, he said.
Police and security services were already closely watching members and supporters of 21 organisations - mostly linked to Islamic extremism - proscribed last year by his predecessor Jack Straw, said Mr Blunkett.
He said: "These organisations and those who belong to them are being monitored and action will, I promise everyone, be taken the moment any of these individuals steps over the line."
Three people arrested on Friday in Berkshire and Birmingham were being questioned by police "on suspicion of whether their actions and their contacts and the way in which they have behaved was involved with or contributed to the terrorist acts," said Mr Blunkett.
A poll in the News of the World today indicated that some 85% of British adults supported the introduction of identity cards, while a survey for The Observer recorded 71% backing for the move.
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