The government is considering using biometric cards with passports within the next four years as part of its increased security and antifraud efforts.

The Passport Service, an agency of the Home Office, is looking into the possibilities of issuing biometric ID cards which would be encoded with personal details such as iris scans or fingerprints by 2006, a government spokeswoman said Thursday.

After recent u-turns by the Home Office over biometrics, privacy and identity cards, this move comes as another step towards their inevitable inception.

But it may not be popular — Home Secretary David Blunkett recently won the Big Brother UK privacy shame awards because of his cack-handed attempts to bring in digital ID.

"As we announced in our e-business strategy report last September, the Passport Service is looking at ways of making passports more secure but we are at a very, very early stage and no decisions have been made yet. We have just completed a feasibility study, though we haven't as yet received the results," the spokeswoman said.

The feasibility study was held at London's Heathrow airport in an effort to expose any security issues in using biometrics, she said.

Over 90 million passengers pass through immigration control at UK ports of entry every year, according to the e-business strategy report.

Earlier this month, Virgin Atlantic, BA and US technology firm EyeTicket announced their own five-month trial of a self-service border passage system using iris recognition at Heathrow.

Schiphol, the operator of the Amsterdam airport, is already offering its self-service border control system, with iris recognition technology called Privium, to other airports and airlines.

Both of these systems are examined in detail in Future focus, in the April issue of PC Advisor, out now.