updated 5/27/2005 8:26:03 PM ET 2005-05-28T00:26:03

Hewlett-Packard Co. entered the debate over whether countries should have electronic identity systems by launching new technology Friday designed to help governments keep track of citizens.

The Palo Alto-based technology company's National Identity System software runs on Microsoft systems including the .NET line of servers and database software.

The system captures and stores demographic and biometric data so agencies or customs offices can access an online registry.

Government agencies in Israel, Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria already use some H-P software, executives said. The Italian Ministry of Interior uses HP's technology to provide electronic national identity documents for all citizens.

The investment bank Morgan Keegan estimates that organizations will purchase $4.8 billion in identity management systems this year. But consumer groups and politicians worry about the privacy implications.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Tony Blair's government urged the U.K. parliament to pass legislation that would introduce Britain's first national identity card since World War II. Some British legislators oppose the cards, which would include biometric details such as fingerprints and iris scans, as an erosion of civil rights.

In the United States, the Transportation Security Administration plans to have 200,000 employees' identities recorded by next month as part of a system that will eventually track 6 million people through fingerprints, handprints or eye scans.

The cards are to allow seaports, airports, railroads, public transit systems, energy facilities and trucking companies to control access to restricted areas and determine whether people are on terrorist watch lists.

The American Civil Liberties Union has already filed a lawsuit challenging the lists, saying some people who aren't terrorists are on them.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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