updated 10/25/2004 11:13:26 PM ET 2004-10-26T03:13:26

Prime Minister Tony Blair announced plans Monday to introduce high-tech biometric identity cards, saying they could be a significant means of fighting terrorism.

Britain has not had compulsory identity cards for ordinary citizens since shortly after World War II. Such ID cards are mandatory in several Western European countries, including Belgium and Germany.

Civil rights advocates say the cards will infringe on personal liberty. Other critics say the plan is expensive and question its efficacy.

But Blair said ID cards bearing biometric data like electronic fingerprints or iris scans “have an important role to play in fighting serious crime and terrorism and tackling illegal immigration.”

“We will legislate as soon as parliamentary time is available and I believe that security must be our legislative priority,” the prime minister said at his monthly news conference.

“I am confident we can successfully develop a secure biometric ID card for the whole country,” he added.

Earlier this year the government said it planned to introduce the cards on a voluntary basis in 2007, with a decision on whether to make them compulsory around five years later.

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